Moving to new location!

Please bookmark and RSS my self-hosted blog for 2014 onwards! Dean Groom [dot] com.

I started writing this blog in 2007 and it’s grown and grown to be read by hundreds of thousands of people. That still freaks me out! – I have to thank Judy O’Connell for that. Without Judy, I’d wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing today.

If you know me, you’ll know that back in 2007 I was teaching high school computing. A lot has happened over the years — and most of that has been because of the amazing power of citizen-media — and people who create, curate and amplify it. These days I’m working with some equally amazing people at the UNSW and my PhD supers – Professor Catherine Lumby and Dr. Kate Highfield on some research with a the grand title “Negotiations of digital-play: how families discover, engage with and negotiate networked video games”. 

The central aim of this project is to discover family conceptions of how video games are negotiated in Australia, particularly networked video games, and to develop theories of how families acquire critical understanding of video games as a cultural literature.

I’m still keeping the day job — despite also part-owning a growing electric bike shop — and I’m still a firm believer that all stages of formal education require media-studies programmes towards student attributes and capabilities. A decade of “ed-tech” has taught me how easy it is to tack-on, but how necessary it is to be at the core of learning either formally or informally. It’s with all this in mind, that I’ve begun to move from this blog to a self-hosted blog “Dean Groom [dot] com”. For some time, I’ll cross-post — but the focus of my blog from 2014 will be towards video-games and parenting (and being a parent involved education). You might want to subscribe to it, book mark it — or just feel relieved I’m moving on.

Some very special thanks: to Jeb at Mojang who kicked my “Why won’t she get off Minecraft?” post into the the stratosphere with a single Tweet. Then there are all those who were at ISTE 2008 — most of whom I still see kicking-ass. To my friends in St. Loius — who were so kind and generous — To Kerry, Shaph, Bron and fellow game-head-educators who were doing this well before it was ‘cool’. I’d also like to thank my very special friend Jeff and his family — who constantly inspires me (and steals my Twitter ID) — I so nearly got to live in Great Falls. Then there is Derek Robertson who’s vision for gaming in schools has always been an absolute beacon for me — and for his generosity in all things gaming.

Lastly I’d like to thank everyone who’s ever bothered to leave a comment and visit my blog!

I wish everyone a happy and safe festive season and hope you get a new bike — an Air Cooled VW, an Alfa Romeo and tickets for Comic Con on Christmas morning! And yes, there will be a lot more for parents of game-kids on the revamped blog for 2014.

Go on, leave a comment – let blogging live!


‘Here’s a blog worth checking out’

My blog was kindly attributed an award by Alexandra Francisco. Needless to say that I am really honored to have been thought of. I have a real thing right now about how important networked ideas are – and looking well beyond your hashtagged burbclaves.

I am utterly hopeless at maintaining a blog roll, and rely on my RSS feeder to run frantically behind the crowd.

Here’s the background: the award is part of the initiative “Vale a pena ficar de olho nesse blog”, which, basically, intends to spread the word about blogs that we think are worth checking out. There are a couple of rules you need to follow:

1- Copy and display the picture of the award given to you;
2- Link back to the blog that nominated you;
3- Nominate 10 different blogs yourself;

4- Inform the people you nominated, so they can in turn, continue the chain and spread the word about all the wonderful blogs out there.
Not too hard to follow, is it? And it’s a great way to call people’s attention to the wonderful work being done by bloggers all over the world. So, bearing that in mind, here are my nominations – which are not any measure of importance, just places that I find interesting around the things I find, well, interesting.
  1. We Fly Spitfires. With a title like that, the blog has to be interesting, Gordon delivers.
  2. HeyJude – I’d still be sitting on my ass without Jude.
  3. The Metaverse Journal – David Holloways epic look at Virtual Worlds from Australia
  4. Teachpaperless – Shelly. A gun-slinging blog. This is exactly the kind of teacher I want for my kids (if he could only stop he Hordish ways)
  5. Teaching Generation Z – Grahame Wegner. First blog I read a lot – and still do.
  6. John Connell – Giving me more reasons that I need to move to Scotland
  7. Dwell on it – Love what Tateru writes, the way it is written and the insight beyond the obvious.
  8. Learning with E’s – Steve Wheeler fights the dark mists of academic prose to make a lot a sense.
  9. Ollie Bray – Ripping out old tired ideas and filling classrooms with adventure, fun and plenty of inspiration
  10. Teacherman79 – the only teacher mad enough to let me work with his kids. Exactly the kind of teacher I’d trust my kids with.

This list is about people who make me rethink all the stuff I think I know – but obviously don’t. A fraction of the people who influence me; support me and challenge me.

Diigo – The power of collaborative thought

Shirky posted a very ‘oh my god’ post about the future of newspapers, weaving though it the problems faced by organisations when old ideas don’t work in new dimensions. This post becomes far more engaging for Diigo users, as there are numerous highlights though the text, with associated comments from people like Clary Burrell, who add the ‘educational’ dimension to the writing. At the time I read it, I think the blog post was up to about 900 comments with ping-backs, but the commentary though Diigo is something that I really value – when looking at the ‘power blogs’ like Shirky or Godin. Viewing the web with Internet Explorer and not Firefox is a little like listening to mono songs, verses surround sound these days. You miss the ‘spacial’ nature of the information.

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Diigo is a great ‘classroom’ tool – given the ability to sign on whole classes and the ability to not only bookmark and classify information, but to offer collaborative reflection. It is another tool that requires very little adaption of the standard network in schools, not does it pose a safety issue – and allows teachers to scaffold learning pathways. Teaching Diigo for pedagogy should be manditory professional learning in my view – and without doubt – any Web2.0 workshop needs to show just how powerful it can be when properly aligned in curriculum.

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They are just not that into you
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More ‘yeah buts’ … and more solutions.

“I’d love to give students more personal feedback, but it’s impossible! I have 900 students!” … “there’s no way I could deal with 900 students in on online discussion!” … “if I put my lecture online, half the students stop showing up!”. So, here we go, let’s find some solutions …

Student concerns about linear learning approaches

From the student perspective, they are often critical of the ‘entry’ event into learning – too much information, too little information, lack of consistency etc., and just as critical of the exit point – lack of feedback – “I put my heart into the essay and all I got was a grade, not even a comment!”, “I don’t know what I need to do to get a better grade?”,”why is this 18/20 not 19/20?”.

Technology as the middle ground

I have to think that what happens in the middle is best supported by a discourse community, and in fact attaining large numbers of participants is a great thing, not a bad one. We all know that group activities suffer the long-tail. In a group of 900 students, realistically 90 will be active voices. Not all of them will be ‘creators’ of conversations, some will join existing ones, some will be critics – the vast majority will be spectators – they will read lots, but often contribute almost nothing. They are however influenced by the behaviors and views of the group.

Renewing Motivation and Participation in learning

It all comes down to motivation – intrinsic or extrinsic, whether they are interested in deep or surface learning in the context of the topic. So in reality a teacher will not be dealing with 900 individual conversations, more like 10% of that, and not at the same time, nor do all posts and replies need addressing. The teacher is a mediator who threads together ideas that steer students in the right direction and occasionally ‘jump start’ the conversations. The value of participation is in the feedback and shared learning experiences of the community itself, not because that is where the ‘answer’ is.

Renewing Pedagogy

Imagine a year 12 HSC Advanced Mathematics class, with 24 students and 1 teacher. They are successful learners, deep knowledge seekers, intrinsically motivated and hungry to solve advanced problems to attain sufficient knowledge to ‘ace’ the exam. Now imagine the same class – but with 240 students and 10 experienced mathematicians. The class has a set of problems to solve and can do so whenever they feel like it. They can work with each other, or work alone – but whatever they do, they solve it in an open space online. Does each teacher need to spend as much time ‘teaching’, will more students mean less or more learning? Can students learn – without the presence of a teacher? Can they learn from more than one teacher after the end of the school day? Would they want to?

The point to me is that it is not a 900:1 ratio unless that is how you perceive it. Lectures could be more engaging on the personal level if some of the ideas the discourse community generates are addressed. If a lecture is merely a monologue, then I have to say, I probably would not show up either. What if a lecture was a hybrid – live conversation and online discussion? What if it was perfectly acceptable to do both. What if the lecture was ‘live blogged’ – and driving questions asked online and in the theatre.

Renewing Delivery

Web2.0 makes it easy to deliver a lecture online – live. Let’s say there is an hour ‘lecture’. Rather than present yet another killer PowerPoint (which is debate in itself), break up the time into delivery, challenge and reflection. Bring in the ‘online’ learners – allow them (and encourage them) to form sub-groups to answer questions and drive further discussion online later or at the time. Get a volunteer to ‘live blog’ the hour with a laptop.

Renewing Work Practices

The idea that there are tutorial discussions, lecture monologues and ‘online’ is not the preference of many students. By being flexible in delivery and support, we can accommodate students better. Sure it means changing the way, when and where we work, but not necessarily how long or how hard. Going ‘digital’ does not mean ‘more work’ at all – yet this is a continual argument to avoid change.

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Kicking off a learning community

I’ve been in a few online sessions recently, and one of the questions that teachers who have figured out what Web2.0 is in comparison to using regular unleaded, is this. “I want to start blogging with my students – how should I start?.

Right up front, let me say that if you are going to start blogging – in a school which has little idea what blogging is, then stop. Turn around, drop the term ‘blogging’ and just call it something like a ‘study group’ or even an ‘e-study group’. That will keep you off the radar, it won’t add new language to the kids – who don’t call MySpace or BeBo – blogging.

It’s just that you are using ICT as your job says you have to. You’re not putting yourself out there as some crusader. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did later.

Next up, recognise that you are not starting ‘blogging’, you are starting ‘reflective’ writing in a collaborative setting that just happens to be online.

Given a choice, I’d hook this up to Literacy and Curriculum rather than ICT. Sure it uses a computer, but then what doesn’t these days. A community blog is the most efficient, instant, flexible and accessible way for a teacher to get around a class of kids; see what they are doing; thinking; who is talking with whom, who is leading whom etc., You simply can’t do this with paper! The nearsest you might get is trying to listen in on hallway conversations – but thats creepy.

Kids will comment, talk about stuff, ask questions online that they won’t in the classroom. Some of the least vocal kids in your classroom are most vocal online – if you build a sustainable ecosystem.

You do have to work on scaffolding their comments into the context of the topic, you just can’t predict what they are going to be. Ah, I just said it wasn’t hard – correction, tick off answers 1 through 10 from text book is easier as it requires far less thinking on the part of the students or the teacher. So for those teachers who hand out the low order thinking stuff (tick a box, ABC stuff) then this is going to be work, sorry.

There is a place for formal assessment. The quick test is a great way of ‘oil dipping’ to see if there is content learning happening. But is should not be the major ‘norm’ in your assessment methods, and in no way summises the learning that is happing. You might have a kid with an awesome video-blog, who stuggles on the test. Remember in 21C learning – students are developing ePortfolios and ‘online identity’ so at least now, that students measure in not just the test score!

It also takes far LESS time to do than collecting books, marking (B+ is not developing the learner) and handing them back. Those who say ‘I don’t have the time’ – are basing that assumption on their personal experiences of the past. Ignore them. The only previous ICT they needed to learn in the last 15 years has been Power Point, so they know what they are talking out – grrr.

Its conversational writing – the blog posts will usually be ‘formal’, but the comments will be a hybrid of txt and formal – and thats just fine. It’s conversational language – as language is always evolving. What we as teachers are interested in – is the learning and the use of the language. If a few *lols appear, don’t worry, it’s not a bad thing.

So here’s a quick method that I suggest those who want to start ‘blogging’ have a look at. I am suggesting that you DONT create individual blogs for students, but use a COMMUNITY blog – I use Ning, but others use 21 Classes. See why suits you. But it’s NOT THE TOOL that matters, its the ecosystem you are creating.

Heres the presentation, but don’t forget to read the other stuff under it too!

Also, don’t start the lesson with ‘today we are going to start on online creepy treehouse’! -Start by getting them fired up. Start by offering them the opportunity to have input on their learning. A nice big fat discussion. It might take you a week to get the discussion to the point where they identify that their ‘could’ so amazing things if they had (x/y/z). That time is well invested. It creates buy in and give you about 30 advocates who will be amazingly vocal in other classes over time, so you won’t have to

Build your community in your classroom – it will soon spill out into the hallway and down the corridor. Its far easier to start there that trying to convince staff that your ideas are something to agree with (initially).