Use your back channel

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I read Mike Bogle’s post about Holistic Blogging today, where he talks about writing from the social, emotional and intellectual perspective. In it he says ” Exploring and cultivating network connections is a holistic activity that should encompass all three spheres“. In higher education, we seem so focused on references and evidence – getting the essay technically ‘right’ and balanced, that students often struggle with social and emotional perspectives in formal writing. I was then thinking about ‘the lecture’ and ‘the tutorial’ and wondered if some simple tools can provide that holistic link, and allow students to engage and reflect better and promote, as Mike says “potential growth of the network, and the activities that may be engaged in by or with peers”

Many lecturers choose to stand behind the lectern and talk to students, some will use a clicker for power point or overhead projector (I swear acetate has a half-life akin to toxic waste) or write on the board. A stint in high school, gives most young people that ‘dead pan’ look needed to be invisible, so looking at them is no real measure of engagement or understanding. Most are busy writing it down in case they need some day, and too absorbed in note-taking to respond with more than a smile as glance up from the jotter for a second. It is usually a small few that engage in open discussion and really hard to then take that limited discussion online to include students who are not actually in the lecture or tutorial. We archive lectures, and are a long way from ‘live’ broadcasting (mentally speaking, technically its a piece of cake).  There is often little opportunity for socially constructed meaning, though discussion though emotional, social and intellect in the lecture format.

Embrace your back channel, with simple tools.

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One way to be more ‘holistic’ is to say you are going to be! Don’t assume students will pick up on subltle suggestion. Be explicit. This can be achieved is to publicise that you want it ‘live’ participants – and that your presentation is not just a ‘lecture’ – which by it’s implication is not a two way interchange – but offers a ‘back channel’ of lively discussion. This not only works for lectures, but can be employed in the staff meetings, tutorials and workshops – no everyone will use it, but that is not reason not to give it a go, remember most people ‘spectate’ in social networks – but they are engaging with the content.

Todays Meeting  (http://todaysmeet.com/)

Embrace the back-channel. A quick, easy and really useful technology that anyone with proficiency in using car door handles can use. They say “Encourage the room to use the live stream to make comments, ask questions, and use that feedback to tailor your presentation, sharpen your points, and address audience needs.” This is light enough in data to operate via a mobile phone too.

TinyChat (http://www.tinychat.com)

Yes it’s a chat room, but as it generates a random URL and moderated by YOU it’s hardly an viable avenue for stalkers or identity thieves. The slick part of this fast application, is it’s ability to SAVE the chat. Yes, seem obvious, but not all include this.

Chatzy (http://www.chatzy.com/)

Popular with the ‘old school’, this again allows quick and easy communication. It also have ‘virtual’ rooms – where more ‘lock down’ invites/passwords can be employed to enter.

Youth Online have grown up on chat channels and will allow them to ‘talk’ about you – the back-channel – and allow you to talk back in real time. It is not distracting, but enriching – as now you have a two way interchange and connection. Most of those who don’t like the idea, really just prefer to dump content and run – this is engagement, and a skill well worth learning.

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Realism, Relevance, Retention

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This is a bit of a passion piece, but I think it’s important to say. I listened to some of the audience’s questions during Will Richardson’s presentation in Sydney last Friday. As ever Will was pulling out the main issues that face parents and teachers. As ever, some questions were very specific ‘which blog do I use’ or system-damming ‘but it’s blocked’ and ‘but I don’t have time’.

The Industrialist 3Rs (Reading, Writing and Arithmetic), are still being cited as the capstones of learning –  when learning is cited as ‘failing’-  the call is to go back to basics – as if technology is somehow disconnected from these things. Learning with technology is part of the ‘digitial’ 3Rs – realism, relevance and retention. These are things to strive for in relation to a broader array of classroom activities. They are enhancing the capabilities of gifted teachers, not displacing them. But even motivated teachers find it difficult to access professional learning that is going to allow them to learn to do it. We have the ability to transform learning  and increase motivation though technology, and still address traditional ‘values’.

Imagine a global virtual world in which students have to negotiate through the complex politics surrounding a wildlife habitat construction project in the developing world, making the case for its economic and environmental benefits. Students take on the ‘role’ of diverse stakeholders, and though classroom research – the can role-play, using exploratory and explicit learning to put forward their solution for a negotiated outcome. They interact in a virtual world, develop models and ideas – blended these with reflection and discussion in other online media such as a blog or wiki to collect and justify their collective action.

picture-11We now have 6Rs, Reading; Writing; Arithmetic; Realism; Relevance and Retention. The above experience can be created using a range of technologies; MeetSee, Edublogs; Skype; Google Docs etc., and easily blended into the classroom. Teachers can connect with other schools (see Jenny Luca’s recent presentation), and can easily ‘chat’ using very low bandwidth, low-tech web tools such as Tiny Chat. In primary years, this can be created with Quest Atlantis, or ever the excellent eKidnaworld (an Australian parent developed virtual world – that needs your support!).

What is critical is that teachers have access to ongoing ‘mentors’ that can show them how to create this – though adaptation of existing, readily available technologies.

To be effective, teachers need to learn about more than Bloom’s taxonomy, but to learn how to develop learning frameworks that contructively align outcomes (what do we want them to learn), activities (how to be create motivating classrooms) and assessment (how to we know they did it). Teachers also need to learn about ‘communication’ with digital media. More often that not, they focus on ‘marking’, and not ‘talking with’ students using more informal strategies.

So before teachers begin to utilize new laptops and faster networks, there remains a huge need to help schools develop goal-orientated, achievable learning frameworks to renew curricula, and will place valid, relevant arguments to the Department of Education as to why students need to access curricula that motivates. Duty of care relates to a physical state, not a virtual one.

The current policy of ‘banning’ sites is at best inconsistent. Are schools breaching Google’s AUP in schools?. If a child is bullied on their way home on a mobile phone – does the school breach it’s duty of care? If someone complains about a ‘blog’ then, despite following policy,are teachers are left at the mercy of the legal system? In short, unless ‘we’ move to a  position where we have effective policy, effective leadership, professional learning and on the ground ‘help’ for teachers, we might as well return to the 3Rs of the 1950s. We will fail and continue to orbit the issues and not end the digital winter. The best professional learning is happening inside personal networks, not systemic ones – and I don’t see any movement forward in public schools.

The DET needs to be brave, it needs to release teachers to mentor based professional learning, and link that with clear assessment via the NSW Institute of Teachers, in co-operation with the Teaching Unions to ensure equity. Instead we find Queensland and Western Australia blocking Quest Atlantis (as the data is held off-shore) and the DET using Twitter to make announcements, but blocks it in school. In short it is a mess and the debate over laptops and school intrastructure is meaningless unless clear policy and action is taken at DET level. I’d love to have that conversation.

Will’s session was another demonstration that teachers want to learn, but lack access to people who can help curriculum leaders, libraries and classroom teachers renew curricula and develop 21st Century pedagogy. There is no preparation for the introduction of fibre connectivity or laptops in the classroom, and well over a decade since the DET ‘re-trained’ teachers.

Realism is not present; what we are doing is no longer realistic. Relevance; current professional learning is limited to policy implementation. Retention; motivated teachers are ‘expelled’ by systems unable to recognise the significance of what they are trying to do. In our desire to be equitable, we fail students. Access to powerful professional learning and therefore powerful schools is increasingly limited by geography and social capital. Bringing any scale to what is a massive problem is difficult in Australia, imagine how much more complex it is in the UK or USA.

However, I wonder at what point someone (maybe me?) form some organisation to deliver 21st Century Learning in whole school, public access level in Australia. PLNs are great, but I think that we need to start something far more significant, that is recognised as professional learning and in some way aligned to recognition and motivation, and in such a way that it transcends the organic and provides constructive advice, policy and lobby for change.

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Typecasting ‘Digital Natives’

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mobile social networking

Image by Will Lion via Flickr

There are a number of posts about the ways in which ‘we’ use social media that puts us into ‘categories’. What I think adults often miss is that young people (not us) are using social media to strengthen their existing friendship networks, not necessarily to widening them.

Educators who are forming new personal learning networks have the life experience to see professional value in it, to deem it as beneficial. These networks create new friendships.  However, the majority of adults (parents) use them as young people do – as friendship networks. They use Facebook in largely facile ways and if anything the depth of conversation and interaction between people is eroding down to 140 characters or less as they abandon email communication for more sporadic Facebook updates and Tweets.

There are countless educators who are masters at their craft, currently employing an array of exceptional instructional strategies, and I think that attacking them for not adopting Web2.0 technology is counter-productive to education. We live in times where group unity and diversity is more powerful than any single solo performance. I think that there is an educational perspective that questions the whole Web2.0 debate and are viewing social media as un-sustainable professional practice. Few schools are bringing sufficient scale to adoption and so quite rightly, teachers stick with what they know has worked in the past, and works in the current assessment systems.

I talk with (to) classroom teachers who are often interested in widening the ‘learning experience’, but struggle scale their innovation beyond a few classrooms. They may introduce a wiki or a social network, perhaps collaborating over a few schools with a few like minded teachers to look at some issue – beyond the text book. But I wonder if talking to an adult who has just experienced some high or low in their life via Skype adds any real depth to their understanding, unless of course they are sure of what students already think, feel and understand.?

If students  do use technology to strengthen existing relationships, then focusing on the student-teacher relationship is more authentic to them than talking to a politican over Skype. It is comparatively more interesting and innovative – but how do we know it is better? Is this new, or have instructional teachers been doing this for decades – with technologies of their time.

I can read about the Somme, I have photos of relatives who died there, and whilst at school attended remembrance parades and talked with veterans who came into the school. We didn’t have the internet or Skype but never the less, my instructional, industrialist History teacher (Mr. Key), did more to focus it that give me a text book and an exam. I was aware of the wider-issues and had empathy and understanding of the events but it was not until years later, when I visited the graves of my relatives (that I never knew), that what I had ‘learned’ about became personally relevant.

I wonder about the transference of understanding. Is it improved with technology or simply an alternative (which may be just as valid), or is the transference between Skype and GTalk, WordPress and Facebook – like adpting from Halo to Warcraft. What are the metrics being used not just to assess the attainment of student in relation to standards and outcomes, but to measure the engagement in deeper learning though the focus on ‘soft skills’ though Web2.0.

Antimacassar on a rail carriage seat

Image via Wikipedia

Perhaps to know the answer, we need to focus on the individual teacher-student relationships. How are  communicating to them: where they are; where they might go; and their attainment levels. A-E and marking merely classifies them to suit our measurement strategies.

We should be allowing them to use digital text as they see fit by understanding more about their ‘types’.

Is the student a ‘pioneer’ who has been psuedo-blogging before the phrase had been coined, using discussion boards and forums.. Are they creative producers building websites, posting movies, photos and music to share with friends, family and beyond? What is their motivation for doing this?. Are the simply everyday communicators, making their lives easier through texting and MSN  or perhaps Information gatherers using Google and Wikipedia addicts, ‘cutting and pasting’ their way though school as strategic surface learners.

I think that young people are very conscious that some activities were more worthwhile than others and are highly tuned into ‘teacher enthusiasm’. They like teachers who are motivated and provide interesting learning opportunities, but at the same time are also conscious that in school – over use of technology will label them as ‘geeks’. We should avoid identifying good ways or bad ways of using technologies because young people move between these ‘types’ constantly. They should be selecting the modes and moving fluently between them.

The problem is that teachers are still the decision makers who shape the way that digital technologies are used in the system and who set them up to limit their use and role in everyday life. ‘Don’t bring that game to school’ and ‘Put away that mobile phone’ co-exist within classrooms who are ‘Skyping out’. I don’t believe in ‘technological determinism’ in today’s schools and don’t think young people are interested in ‘social media’, just interested in using it. In student co-horts, I have always found a ‘leader of the pack’ – a pioneer, often not the student who demonstrates interest in technology in the classroom.

The current generation of young people will probably reinvent the workplace, just as the current one has and in turn this will change society, regardless current policy. For schools, pedagogy is central to relevant curriculum, and relevance is directly linked to understanding student motivation and interests.

In designing effective learning frameworks, we need to get used to the idea that collaboration, participation and co-production has happened for today’s young people, and they are comfortable with friend networks.

What I think teachers need to be acutely aware of is that in order to ‘widen’ their interest, they first need to establish how they are going to add value to ‘their networks’ though a two way flow of knowledge. Teachers don’t know everything and perhaps rather than try to ‘create authentic learning’, they need to simply ‘go with the flow’ of what young people are doing – and build upon what they know, not what we think they know – or think they want to know – by building stronger relationships, not wider experiences – though pedagogy.

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Developing a professional learning plan.

I have to confess that I struggle to overcome the dilemma of professional learning. While some seem to tackle it with vigor, others avoid all contact with it. Yet both co-exist, often in side by side classrooms. How in a culture of opt-in do people develop their own plan, get recognition and then transfer that attainment to others. I’ve been tackling this at work and so this is in someway a reflection of understanding how to at least approach it.

Professional Learning does not happen by accident.

It has either intrinsic or extrinsic motivators. “I want to learn about blogging” vs “my department is using blogs in this unit, I need to learn it”.

Motivation plays a huge role in any incremental improvement, as to make it stick, the participant needs to be interested, willing and have the social capital to implement it. I’ve heard so many times from teachers frustrated with management chains over things they want to use but can’t – firewall policy,  sabotage by other staff members (who don’t want any change) or lack of time allocated to learn new methods etc.,

Winnicott (1965) uses it to describe the conditions under which potential growth can take place

  • The belief that the learning can be achieved
  • The pay-offs will be sufficient to justify it

Two simple, yet BIG statements that preempt professional learning at the individual and group level. If you don’t believe, then you are going to have a hard time getting motivated.

Individual Belief

If you don’t believe that you can do it, you are un-motivated. This maybe due to personal attainment – access to technology, time etc., or that the organization will permit it – let alone support it. The pay-offs need to be measureable. What is the benefit? All too often the innovation that classroom teachers do is difficult to ‘prove’ as ‘better’ – to others. Developing a professional learning plan has to address these things, in order to show increased performance – and increased fulfillment and life/work satisfaction. What do you believe you can do? even if it just one thing.

I like the idea of ‘storming, norming and performing’, but initially I found it hard to define characteristics for it. I it took me a while to get it.

Individual Hit Takers

I think that we are talking about change at an initial loss. There is no pretending that the challenges we face in education are otherwise. Many have chosen to take hit at the personal level – on emotional stress, family life and greater investment in their own professional learning. It is irksome that the institution rejects the idea they might need to.

We initially stormwhich is a de-stabilisation – as we declare that there is something new to learn. This leads to a time where we seek to ‘norm’ our learning. This is a period of disorientation. We have emotional responses to what we are doing. The moments of ‘elation’ are fewer than those of anger, frustration and depression. Finally, we enter the performing phase – which is a process of re-orientation. We turn innovation into integration. We add it to the new learning and into our overall belief systems. We eventually have to face the challenges and start delivering – showing results that mean something – not anecdotal stories.

These phases require individual strategies, as each requires quite different approaches. For example: Some things are hard to measure – such as ‘problem based learning’ . Boud (1991) ‘there is no universally agreed set of practices which must be found in problem based learning courses”. Others are simpler. “21 teachers attended an introduction to wikis workshop and 4 are now using them independently in 10 classes”.

The Scale Fail

This is not sustainable for the individual, the organization or the students. This remains the challenge educational systems. How do we develop effective professional learning frameworks – as the ‘skills’ are often buried inside ‘teachers’ who are atomistic in changing their classrooms.

Institutional Fuddling

To take this to any kind of ‘scale’ is not something that will occur outside ‘networks’, as it does inside them. The local network looks something like this. It is atomized fragile, based on email, faculty meetings, conversations in the staff room etc., Not all it’s parts like change and therefore it is almost impossible to operate effectively, let alone scale. The bigger the organization, the more links and more delicate the eco-balance becomes. One person can sabotage the work of several, as most people operate as individuals most of the time.

Strategic change to the incumbent curriculum and belief system, must be a simple, yet powerful vision – followed by an operational plan. Teachers lack the social capital at the local level that they often seem to hold in spades though their professional learning networks.

The Facilating Environment

It’s great to have a PLN, but imperative that you can unleash it’s potential to the local community. The reality is that sites and services are still banned, teachers harassed by mis-informed parents. (Yes parents your kids will post things online sooner or later … that is why we are teaching them early, before they cyberbully or get bullied).

Good leadership in a Web2.0 world means solving this dilemma, not orbiting it, or citing it as ‘the problem’. Teachers, I don’t think can’t carry the day – unless leaders develop pathways addressing increasing student dis-satisfaction with their environment and modes of learning. I may well take deliberate effort to de-stablilse the previous learning in order to begin the change process. Storming begins with developing a Facilitating Environment in which we can create conditions for this growth in learning and teaching. This is a strategic plan. Simple in design, easily understood and impactful, delivered in partnership with teachers and leaders.

Develop a powerful learning plan!

I can’t imagine that anyone who has a ‘leadership’ position is not aware of how ICTs are central to life long learning and knowledge is more than ever, socially constructed – by doing. Few cannot have heard of what is possible – yet students are still waiting for them to end the digital winter and open up classroom learning to it’s potential. I imagine a courier van. The driver has a hectic schedule and the drivers door won’t open so they have to climb in an out using the passenger door. There’s no time to fix the door and as the driver is still making deliveries, then unless the other door develops problems – there is no need to fix it. I am amazed at what teachers achieve in a deficit model, and can’t begin to imagine what would happen in a facilitative one.

The future of teaching will change

The dilemma here is that as individuals, we are developing personal learning plans, we are intrinsically motivated and drawn towards global solutions. I wonder what happens as their skills begin to be in high demand. Will the get tired of using the passenger car door and take their skills at least in part, online into virtual classrooms. There is significant research to suggest that this is not only viable, but profitable, both for the individual and the institution.

Factories have closed, and yet the machine that made the workers seems convinced that they will come back. Maybe it is just bullish behaviour and no one wants to make a phone call to the ‘factory floor’ to seek assistance.

Teachers: Develop a professional learning plan. Schools: Develop a professional learning plan to support teachers. [please]

References:

David Boud, Grahame Feletti (1991) The challenges of problem based learning. Kogam Page, London (p.15)

Winnicott D W (1965) The Maturational Process and the Facilitating Environment London: Hogarth Press

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What is good teaching?

I was reminded in a student-panel session last week that just maybe I have to deal with the ‘ethics’ committee before recording the views of volunteer students. Academics enrolled in a Foundations of Learning and Teaching course were there to listen to the ‘student perspective’ on what is good (and bad) learning and teaching at University.

Their views seem to be echoed online, as this High School student video, buried in YouTube talks about – so I’ll just use this instead.

  • Leading learning, not controlling the class.
  • Having Teachers that THEY can connect with
  • Teachers who realise (though action) that a student is a human being with a range of interests and ideas to share.
  • Allowing students to connect to the teacher without reinforcing the power teachers have over them.
  • Teachers who connect with the content and shows passion for what they are doing – and saying.
  • if they don’t take an interest, then why should you” – teachers faking interest is obvious!
  • Students know that good teachers have a DRAMATIC impact on positive learning experiences
  • They remember ‘good teachers’ because they recognise ‘good teaching experiences’ (and visa versa)
  • Good pupils hope to be remembered

The ‘student panel’ were critical of both the ENTRY and the EXIT events, but also positive about  well designed courses that take into account the ‘learning load’, motivation and learning preferences of the students.

A teacher writing on a blackboard.
Image via Wikipedi

They were giving the room really valuable feedback on instructional strategies that work or don’t – for them. To reinforce the fact that often highly knowledgeable teachers fail to engage students … another YouTube clip … time to spot the strategies here. This clip really engaged the cohort, and pulled together the student panel session and the need to consider much more than content when teaching.

Students highlighted over reliance on summative assessment to grade students. This was later reinforced when the cohort learned about the Solove Method of grading.

They further talked about the assumptions teachers make ” students are there because they are ‘into’ the subject” – when in fact they are curious, interested but not (yet) deeply engaged in it. This assumption leads to issues of engagement if the teachers does not do adequate ‘oil dipping’ for prior knowledge – or motivation.

I was quite amazed to learn that many teachers (higher education) won’t use ‘online learning’ such as a discussion forum, as they have a 1000 students and insufficient resources. I’ve heard that from teachers with 20 students before too. Building effective learning communities remains one of the most important professional development sessions that teachers can attend in my view.

I think that is is great question to ask students ‘what is a great teacher’ (class) or ‘how can teach you better’ (personal).

It was great to see how keen students were to give positive, constructive feedback in the session – and how seriously that is taken as a key element of curriculum renewal. Students are the mirror that we need to look into more often I think.

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Creativity, Curiosity, Consideration, Consistency Part 3

Science Cafe Seminar @ 21st Century Kaitokudo
Image by skasuga via Flickr

The final part of this three part look at how we got here, looks at engagement.

In just a few years, Web2.0 has re-energised teachers to discuss and share ideas about learning frameworks on a global scale. Learning is changing on a global scale, the personal learning network is the learning management tool for many educators. These teachers see more than software and more than the internet. They see an opportunity to recreate learning frameworks, adapt technology and the re-engagement of students. The generosity of these people allows the rest of us to understand how they are doing it, and to me, these people demonstrate some common traits.

How effective 21st Century teachers tap into student interest.

  • Creativity: Cognitive skills applied to creating and making using technology – that the activity allows interest driven opportunities to remix, remake and construct understanding by ‘doing’.
  • Curiosity: Enquiry approaches, not knowing all the facts and not needing to have all the answers. Encouraging students to ask their ‘own’ questions is more important than answering the teachers’.
  • Consideration: How students learn using technology. How they collaborate, what it means to be a global citizen and develop an ePortfolio to build a positive digital reputation as a life long learner. Preparation for examination and assessment, balanced with our responsibility to adequately prepare novices to become life long learners.
  • Consistency: Establishing pedagogical ‘norms’ that allow students to learn inside frameworks that support learners, using relevant language, protocols and mediation.

Insistence that a teacher has to include ICT in an assessment task is just a bad idea if they are not able to do it. It doesn’t matter if the school is instructional based, inquiry based, under or well resourced. If schools are going to use the Internet, and offer students access to information and services on it – then these are criteria in which they can assess their learning frameworks. We simply need to admit that might have to start again, to accept that building planes in the sky is not working. We may need to accept that we are no longer able to teach effectively with ICTs until we re-evaluate how we use them in the 21st Century Context.

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Creativity, Curiosity, Consideration, Consistency Part 2

Unlearning the Internet – Part 2/3

The www has corrupted how well schools used ICTs in the 1990s. There is no doubt that students benefited from using CAI approaches. “Drill and Skill”– learning MS Office, learning to Touch Type or learning Phonetics using software, was beneficial school leavers in the 1990s as they entered employment or attended University. Schools did a very good job with computing  – it was taught in a context that had learning frameworks that delivered what was needed at the time.

However, in the mid 1990s, the www crept into the classroom – full of promises of universal access to information – and on demand learning. It was the era of the ‘information superhighway’. This actually ran very slowly over a dial up modem, shared by dozens of students on flaky networks . To teachers and students it was something of a world wide wait, then crash. The trickle of information that came though via Yahoo and Alta Vista was really used as a ‘bolt-on’ for existing pedagogy and resources. They were cited as being ‘important’ but in all reality, the Internet in schools during the 1990s was a total nightmare for all but the most die-hard of teachers exploring ‘cyberspace’.

Learning how to get the best out of the net on these unreliable, slow networks was simply too hard for many experienced ‘computer science’ teachers – used to grappling with school ‘under funded’ ICTs – let alone anyone else. Teachers had no experience of using it to suit learning in the www domain, it was a world away from what they had been doing as previously – CAI software provided everything they needed.

Teachers were never really taught what the Internet could do for learning – we worried about what it was and how to make it (some learned how to write HTML) – and skipped the development of learning frameworks and digital taxonomies. Drill and skill and CAI frameworks were eroded by students’ natural curiosity, which led them to search engines – and ‘surfing the internet’.

In a world pre YouTube, the interest for students was email, Yahoo Chat, Microsoft Messenger. To them, the Internet offeres a place to communicate where parents and teachers have no power over them. They are not foremost ‘into’ the internet as a content provider, but  as a communication channel. Back then, only a few had mobile phones and parents controlled the landline. If they could ‘get online’ they had low cost, instant, access to their friends – and that was real independence.

Right from the outset – the www had a completely different use for students. It  offered a new freedom to communicate and a growing usefulness in ‘searching’ for information that could be pumped directly into assessments and essays. They were better than teachers at finding, and better at sharing and since then, we’ve been complaining and rattling our sabers about plagiarism and copyright. Students are by and large not interested in the laws, ethics or morality of the internet. To them the price point is zero and everything is there for the talking. We have to teach them that part.  They just want to get the ‘best’ or ‘right’ answer and know that they stand a better than average chance of finding it on Wikipedia. Our love of marking and ‘ticks’ needs to expand. Getting the right answers is not as important as asking a better question. The internet has so much information, that pushing students questions into the deepest corners of ‘web knowledge’ is critical – things they won’t find on the first page of Google.

What are the new learning frameworks, new pedagogies needed to create exploritory and contructive classroom learning? First of all, teachers need to unlearn what they’ve learned about the internet. That was the old internet based on drill and skill – now it’s a communication channel, and teachers need to learn how to participate in the learning conversation.

The 3Rs are now the 3Ts

Learning with Web2.0 requires a shift from Educational ICTs being user centered to learning centred.

Software applications by their nature put the user at the centre. We ‘use’ software. We read the ‘user’ manual etc., Confusion occurs when attempting to differentiate between software and Web2.0 technologies. For example, ‘using’ a blog interface to write is remarkably similar to writing a letter in a Word. But there is a distinct difference between seeing students as ‘users’ of technology or ‘learners’ with technology. I suggest that effective 21st Century pedagogy is learning centred and uses the 3Ts, not the 3Rs.


The 3Ts of Web2.0

Tools: The Web2.0 tools used must be adaptable to suit the needs of the learning. For example, if we are teaching collaboration, the tool must allow students to collaborate in their educational setting. What works in an elementary school in Kansas, may not work in a school in Adelaide. Each school has it’s own cultural capital, socio-economic, cultural and leadership differences. The key decision is to try them, not to worry about replication.

Techniques: The teacher is not the ‘gateway’ to knowledge, nor is the software. They both act as simultaneous conduits though which learning occurs. For example: The teacher will teach students how to use Delicious to find information – because it will produce better learning outcomes in the future.

Task: Is a scaffolding activity. Mastery skills may be learned, however a scaffold is used to deliver the disciplinary requirements of the syllabus, though authentic, relevant, goal directed ‘doing’ activities. For example: The students go on a science fiield trip. The students use technology to document their learning. This, you might argue could be done without technology. But what if it was a ‘digital’ field trip using Flickr, Google Sky – as the trip is inter-planetary?


We use the Web2.0 ‘tools’ to assist learning. These tools are not there to be ‘learned’ in the same way we taught students to learn how to use Word or to make a Spreadsheet. Web2.0 represents an opportunity to adapt the read/write, connectedness of the internet into Learning. The central activity is to learn – by doing – using tools, tasks and techniques.

We once thought we needed to learn how to use computers. We would have them on our desk. This was because we had previously (and sucessfully) trained people to be machinists or signal box operators. We thought the next generation would use ‘computers’ like their parents used a factory machine. They did for a while, but todays ICTs left the desktop and local area network long ago. Being media and network literate is more important that being a ‘user’.

Lara Croft is my new teacher

Lara Croft was perhaps one of the greatest teachers of all time. Tombraider was one of the games that redefined gaming through it’s immersive, strategic interactivity – together with a back-story and ‘cut’ scenes that rewarded players for perseverance and solving problems. Sure she has sex appeal, but that was not her biggest asset. Tombraider in many ways set the scene for today’s massively multiplayer online role-playing games such as Runescape and World of Warcraft.

Problem solving, improving performance though the acquisition of skills and meta-cognative knowledge. Sound familiar? Games have a pseudo-pedagogy all of their own which can be leveraged into learning and teaching in education.

Games teach kids a high degree of visual and auditory literacy – as well as ‘reading’ and now writing, social skills and collaboration.

Where is the alignment with pedagogy?

1.    Goal orientated learning
2.    Problem solving
3.    Critical thinking
4.    Literacies for learning
5.    Tenacity and exploration
6.    Selection of ‘tool’ best suited to solve problems
7.    Sense of mastery and achievement
8.    Ability to apply congnitive knowledge to situations
9.    Collaboration
10.    Social behavioural modeling.

Of course there are expections and issues is some games ‘context’ and ‘content’. I would not advocate simulated ‘real’ violence such as Grand Theft Auto for example, though interestingly one of the US Army’s best recruitment tools – is a game called Americas Army. I’m not going to get into the social and ethical debate of some ‘titles’, but stick to the underlying ‘learning’ that games are teaching or kids. Herein lies a separate debate, but like everything they see or hear – some of experiences and activities are harmful, some positive. We can even leverage this into discussions of social and ethical values in society. They are doing it anyway remember. Just poll your class for ‘titles’ if you are in any doubt.

The internet has transformed gaming – and therefore informal-learning. Learning does is exclusively ‘at school’ in the way it once was – social learning models are active at home – be that through using and reading MySpace or playing World of Warcraft. Games are online to ‘win’ you simply have to work with others – and model ‘winning’ techniques and behaviours.

Games are goal orientated, and to get to the ‘top’ of your game – they know that they have to start at the bottom – and through the various skills outlined, they ‘level’ up. They accept defeat only temporarily – as you always re-spawn and try again. In this way – gaming uses the ‘zone of proximal development’. The problems can be neither too easy that they are not worth doing, or too frustrating that they give up. Game designers are very savvy when doing this. Its all the more amazing to hear adults comment when watching kids play games ‘I have no idea how he can take all that in’. They can because they are multi-literate and able to predict the model and methods. Games often stick to a very tried and tested approach – reward for problem solving, through effort and experimentation. This leads to cognitive knowledge. If anything, I think that exploration and play, is where kids learn much of what some are calling ‘digital native’ – they were not born with these skills – they learned them – and Lara, was their teacher so to speak.

If teachers use a similar approach – chunking tasks, building on core skills to solve problems though experimentation and inquiry then kids will bring a huge amount of game-cognition to the classroom. Of course, learning needs a context, content and discipline. In gaming there is a back-story, the context – and the problems being solved are the ‘content’. The tools to solve it are provided by the software.

So rather than hand over a text-book, use the text book as the ‘level guide’ – a point of reference when you are getting stuck in a problem. Use a forum – a place to ask questions, and get answers. Make the goal ‘massive’ and ‘authentic’, but chunk it into incremental levels – though individual classroom activities.

Don’t focus on the tool – Gamers know that to beat the ‘boss’ you have to select the right set of tools in the context. Students need to be selecting the right tools (blogs, wikis, rss, delicious, forums, podcasts) within a short period. My view is that a 7th grader with zero Web2.0 exposure, should be using all these in around 10 weeks – after that, they should be selecting and justifying their choices to the teacher and their peers. Let them teach each other the mastery skills – stick to the context and the content.

Get off the tools curve early – the cognitive skills are there, so focus on the context and the content. Take a risk – let them apply their vast gaming skills to learning. Adopt Lara’s pedagogy, they will see it as far more relevant than a 19th Century one.

I am not suggesting – playing games (though I am not against it) in the classroom, but I am suggesting that playing games – just might make you a better teacher – as you can adopt a lot of the methods and cognitive processes that they have – into learning and teaching. It will also lead to better appreciation on how educational MUVES such as Quest Atlantis and Second Life can be leveraged into learning. So if you’ve never played a game, or think it’s not relevant to you – then think again – it is relevant – because games teach kids so much. Grab the 10 day World or Warcraft trial – it may just be the potion that gives you insight into what Lara has been teaching them for over a decade.

Tough Love

3110358891_f7bf8de367_oSo today was the last day of term for Mr7. A big day for a kid who struggles with emotions. He didn’t last the day, and was pretty distraught about having to leave his 5 close friends as we move to the Central Coast, an hour and a half away.

We are also going to miss the passion and enthusiasm of Mrs Harris and Daniel Harris at St. Clair OOSH. They have been so supportive and had a massive impact on Mr7s life. In fact, the few hours he spend there were far more productive that those at school (a trend we don’t want to see. One of the reasons for our move, is that Mrs Campbell was leaving Mr7s school. She was the teacher that ‘got him’ and she was a upset as he was to be separated.

So a big day in our household. My wife was fare welled by parents who we’re crying – maybe because she took kids from reading level 1 to level 25 in 1st grade, or that she wasn’t going to let ‘staff room opinion’ of ‘kids’ get in the way of finding ways to connect with them. She was sad to leave, not because she would miss the school, but perhaps knowing that some of those kids really didn’t get too much quarter from other staff.

This is the part of ‘school’ that makes it so damn tough. Schools are not equitable and at times you have to wonder why some ‘teachers’ even bother going to work (i mean school) every day. That’s the point. Its not really a ‘job’ but a massive honour to know these kids and in some way help shape their lives.

But at the end of the day, we’ve had to take a tough love decision – which is to try and find the best environment for our kids, and in doing so I think has a big impact on not just us, but the parents and teachers that we’re all so inter-connected with. I find it really hard to see a teacher’s decision to give up their worksheets, rote learning and wordsearches is that hard in comparison with what parents and kids will give up – learning relevant to the times we live in.

It is amazing how just a few people actually matter in a kids life when it all boils down to it. So if you are lucky enough to have one of those teachers in your kids life, then smile and be happy, cause just around the corner are laggards who think that what they do is ‘work’. It is just a shame that in order to give Mr7 and Miss5 an enjoyable and relevant learning experience … so much else had to change. I really find it hard to accommodate these people these days … yes it’s time consuming to do, yes it’s more work than you have to do, yes it means getting to know kids (and really caring), and taking the harder road even when presented with the easy one. If that all sounds like bs or work … consider getting the hell out of our kid’s lives. We won’t be worse off.

I’d like to thank everyone who’s read this stuff, helped me, inspired me and continues to influence and motivate me – I hope to catch up with lots of your at NECC in 2009 – and more than happy to do as much as I can to repay all of it back to ‘the network’ of amazing people who know it aint a job – it’s an imperative.

Rant Over.