School Without Walls #2

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FOLLOWING on from the great feedback in relation to the previous post and #sictassy (check the Tweet-related URLS here), I’d like to start expanding out some of the ideas forming around ‘the school without walls’, leading from the discussions with the DET (Department of Education and Training).

I am in no way suggesting this idea is limited to the DET – but that was the start point conversation and #sictassy. The creation of this ‘school’ I believe can only come about as a result of participatory culture and that has to be the central motivation for those students choosing ‘media based education’.

A Virtual School is not a new idea, or an ideal, but I see the school without walls as a very bright idea – as it is ideal to model best practice, model professional learning, and deliver 21st century pedagogy within existing desires of education.

In the comment stream, there are numerous ideas … and we are still talking about some central issues that surpass foci on ‘technology’ itself. The Twitpoll over the weekend took 43 votes – so the conversation has gone from 8 at a table to the network. 95% thought it was plausible. Not a big number, but it represents something bigger – a movement.

3402869547_5d5993b55fThe Minister for Education, Julia Gillard, this week said  “The government did not want this generation of young people to bear an ongoing burden from the economic crisis”, to me, this burden is not just future taxation – but the nature of employment and preparation for it.

The Minister also talked about “… creative provision of education, they can be back, back learning, back gaining self-esteem and self-respect, and back gaining opportunities that are going to make a difference for the rest of their lives.” and “We don’t want people sitting around doing nothing,” on Fairfax Radio.

If this is goal, and we want students to ‘learn or earn’ – why do we have to have duality – why not find a way to blend both or either – depending on the needs of the learner. Some may financially need to earn, but also want to be learners. Even in this mode, the school without walls makes sense to me. Ideas are in a loop, looking internally for answers – or hoping to co-opt ‘the cloud’ and cherry pick palatable ideas based on the past.

Why not empower and trust in the existing movement of teachers already forming behind this idea? – That’s the message.

The National ICT Symposium was addressing some of this.   I see the project as taking innovation to integration – delivering on existing ‘needs’ by the various bureaucratic statements such as the Federal government’s provision for “recognition and reward for quality teaching” or for beginning teachers to have demonstrated successful teaching experience.“. I want to create leaders, not experienced teachers. I experience traffic in Sydney daily, and don’t see it as valuable to my life – quite the opposite.


To keep the conversation flowing – I’ve put together an idea for a charter statement – which you are free to comment, or add to on Etherpad. Please note it only deals with 8 people at once, so be patient if there is a rush. How do you see a mission and vision for this?

I think we are having a great conversation about what are hard questions, please please add your voice – local, international, DET, CEO, AIS, TAFE – participation is the currency of communication.

Hulu to the future?

I haven’t done an ‘I wonder’ post for a while, but a few things I’ve read this week lead me to wonder about what creates change, not just in school – but in our beliefs.

Few people will not have heard of the ABC or Disney. But what about Hulu? What if I was to say that Hulu is a TV channel that ABC and Disney have decided is a brand that they cannot effectively compete with, so is negotiating to work with in the future. “Disney made a bet three years ago that the strength of its ABC and Disney brands would be enough to attract online viewers, and so it chose not to participate in Hulu during its launch”. Is there any alignment here with the position that education systems are taking?, are they holding out that they would continue to attract students due to their heritage, should there be some alternate. What is amazing with stories like this is the speed at which millions of people move to new spaces and how powerless traditional media channels are in preventing it. With so much content heading to the web, and even CBBC focusing on their online delivery as a primary activity, with TV secondary, ending long running shows – as “children no longer saw themselves as exclusively schoolchildren”.

Content on mobile phones and netbooks used to be on the lounge room television. Increasing lower costs access to wifi with pre-paid and 3G wifi will sweep away metropolitan broadband ADSL, as more people lower home-consumption in favour of greater mobile. Mobile learning, with high quality content will increase as organisations like the BBC focus their attention on it’s development and delivery.

How will this affect students? Now they won’t need ‘your’ network or ‘your connection’, and will be sharing net access though informal, add-hock networking, using 3G and Bluetooth connectivity. 3G dongles look just like USB drives, but do remarkably more. Once they wanted SMS credit, now they want’web credit’. I see dozens of high school students on my trip from the Central Coast using mobile internet on their phones. They are not just texting, but emailing and chatting in IRC with Skype, and this is a big motivator for teens to have ‘smart phones‘. In fact now you send a txt message to get the URL of internet content. We are seeing TV increasingly interested in ‘virtual worlds’ and ‘online games’. A solo experience or game, as an add on for traditional TV and film marketing, is no longer enough.Advertisers know that we are connecting to each other, more than their messages, and know that social media is where their customers are – online and mobile.

New pre-school entertainment comes with ‘virtual world’ connections.- as they are painfully aware how tomorrows media-consumer is motivated. Anything that was on TV is now on your mobile – and more than likely connected to a massive mutliplayer environment. Few teachers are even beginning to think abut how this is going to impact them in the next 5 years. Much of the operational instruction we used to provide – such as information literacy and ‘computer mastery’ is being taught by online avatars and popular culture websites.

source: news.com.au

source: news.com.au

Students in Grange Hill in the late 70s, experienced classrooms and process of learning that has changed little in over 30 years. Yet the students in them are increasingly there because of ‘tenue’, and not motivation. We have more strategic, surface learners that deep, life long learners.

What do we have to do to ensure that ‘schools’ are the best ‘channel’ for learning? It seems entirely possible that something could appear in education from an unconventional quarter. It is happening everywhere else, ask the Mouse, who has several ‘virtual magic kingdoms’. If encumbent, successful, organisations are being unseated from their traditional markets, will they education be seen as an opportunity? Will the slow change and lack of central government investment see schools being commercialised? Well maybe, it’s here already with McDonalds, free online software for schools. The media was fixated with facile ‘McSchool’ jokes, or if burgers would be advertised, once again showing how out of step they are with reality. Of course McDonalds software is FREE – it’s online, and online is predominently ‘free’. A paid model is not how it works anymore. We have Google ‘educators’ already, and Apple have been claiming ‘Apple Schools’ for years.

I wonder how near we really are to the Florida Virtual High School, If the AIS and Catholic Education Offices are talking to McDonalds, and therefore parents are accepting commerical, third party teaching input, then can parents and students opt to study Anchient History in a commerically funded Teen Second Life’ class. Does software have to be ‘linear’, given that some of the most innovative learning environements in Australia are ones in which, as Will Richardson observes “the kids are driving the learning, from the design of the school and the curriculum to the decision making around school policy and more”. Policy is therefore central to the debate. We have ‘outcomes’ prescribed by the Board of Studies, and assessments are guided by policy compliance and the HSC summative examination.

If a parent wants their child to do well, and there is an alternate offering – online, mobile or virtual – then the central issue is about ‘tenure’. Students are required to be at school. I’d like think they ‘attend learning’, through effective activities, guided by outcomes and assessment  (attendance, may be an outcome/assessment btw). This is not so futuristic. In China, thousands of students attend class via mobile phone as well as online webinar.

In an atomised way, the elements of negotiated learning, mobile learning and virtualised learning are there – together with an economic imperative for large organisations to re-position themselves and find new opportunities. It’s not going to happen tomorrow – but at the same time, I wonder if the ‘shifts’ for learning will actually come from the education sector leadership – or from more motivated commercial enterprise.

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Infinate Learning

FI-ligature type in 12p Garamond.
Image via Wikipedia

It is an exciting and challenging time for education. In the 20th century we perceived information as scarce while in the 21st century it is over abundant. Now students have the ability to search, work or publish at will, using text, audio, and video, or any combination these. The have un-precedented access to technologies previously cost prohibitive for schools, which are usually instant and often free. Learning and teaching has become a multimodal, multi-literate conversation – where participation is an everyday reality for teachers, librarians, administrators and students.

The opposing forces of ‘memory and forgetfulness’ no longer dominate learning. Since Gutenberg’s movable type in the mid 1400s, technology has allowed us to expand our creative and mental horizons, progressively chipping away at the need to ‘memorise’ and ‘recall’. Today more information is stored digitally than in all the libraries in the world combined. We simply don’t need to ‘remember’ everything. The output of ICTs exceeds the wildest dreams of nineteenth century industrialists, and alters our view of memory; forgetfulness; creativity and originality.  Schools need to extend their vision of learning beyond ‘memory-arts’. We are in a hyperdynamic world of connections, relationships, and adaptive tools that help us make sense of the information flooding about us. We are standing at the entry of an age of infinite recall and infinite memory, the lines between original works and derivatives is blurred because duplication is simple and storage cheap. The idea that students learn from single or even limited origins is naive. Originality and creativity is now an additive and transformative process. Students need to develop insight into how to navigate and select a pathway in the online world – and for that they need help – by creating better resources, developing better frameworks inside what schools call ‘information literacy’.

Students that score well on exams can also be strategic surface learners. They want and demand the ‘answers’. While there is pressure to ‘perform’ and ‘get results’, it seems that online learning is adapting and evolving regardless of what mainstream education thinks.

For example : The Florida Virtual High School – has a very different pedagogy, and very different approach to learning.

In two words? Personalized instruction. You want choices. You want to feel that you or your students are not just numbers. You want to work at your own pace. You’d like to study at home or from a library or coffee shop. You want some say in your education, and you want classes that hold your interest!

If these are the things you want for yourself or your students, you have come to the right place. We have built our school on these beliefs:

  • Every student is unique, so learning should be dynamic, flexible and engaging.
  • Studies should be integrated rather than isolated.
  • Students, parents, community members, and schools share responsibility for learning.
  • Students should have choices in how they learn and how they present what they know.
  • Students should be provided guidance with school and career planning.
  • Assessments should provide insights not only of student progress but also of instruction and curriculum

We are presented with infinite memory. We can store, retrieve infinitely more than our fragile memory. Our lives are not limited by local contemporaries or restrained by single sources of information. The internet wiped away that idea a long time ago. The next wave for education to deal with is the nature of schools and the mode of learning itself – in the global context. It is already happening. As Australia starts looking at the next phase of it’s ‘digital education revolution’ – I hope that it pays attention to schools like the FVS. I wonder what would happen if we had a HSC Virtual High School? – Now there’s an idea.

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Graphic-A-Day#8 – Printers

Give a teacher a printer and make a friend for life. Todays poster is for all those teachers who love a printed worksheet. Some just love to print out ‘content’. Last year I did a study with year 12 students in the lead up to the HSC. Most said they were getting well over 100 sheets of paper a week. Most also said that they didn’t read it. The sheets they read were the ones that had ‘work’ on them, and even so, the majority said that it was easier to use the internet to get the answer than it was the paper.

Some teachers love the printer so much that they will come into school during the holidays just to get print outs ready.

To these people, that is what computers are for: Preparing CONTENT or TESTING for content retention.

If you want a rebellion, pull the toner drum out for a day. Teachers will chase the IT department with pitch-forks and torches. If they cannot use the printer – then a computer is like a car without wheels.

The reality is that it takes less effort to save a document and share it via the internet, than it does to print it and get a class set photocopied. Trying to explain the benefits to them – and the students is not something that goes down well. The notion of being parted from their printer it too unthinkable.

It is maybe ironic however, that the paper-pushers also claim Google and Wikipedia use as one of the ‘yeah but’ arguements against using computers in the classroom. The most common other one being lack of time (well printing and photocopying is very time consuming). These teachers do that themselves with technology. When going beyond the class text book, they can be seen preparing ‘content’ sheets. Its almost a cottage industry in some schools. The above poster really tries to sum that activity up – as a satire on process driven learning.

Create the document, and share it with not just your class, but other teachers is more efficient and consistent. Posting that online where kids can get it, is more effective. It saves time and paper. How many paper pushing teachers hear from students ‘I didn’t get the worksheet or I don’t have it here’. This 20C activity is easily improved.

Put that content or worksheet in an online space where students can discuss it, creates conversational learning. Developing a GoogleDoc with collegues, and then sharing that with students is even better. Working on a GoogleDoc with students is engaging and promotes one to one learning.

“Yeah but” … I don’t have that much access to computer classrooms, so I need to print!

Well, yes and no. It’s all about rethinking how you use the time you have. As a teacher, it is possible to take the time you will be in and ICT classroom, and create an activity which promotes improved classroom practice and professional development. In short, it’s not so much about access as it is about building your own capacity to begin changing how you use technology with students.

If you are designing lessons, that are essentially question driven – based on students seeking similar information that you yourself ‘found’, then that is BORING. It is also low level activity, and is not building capacity in the students.

If your printed worksheet contains instructions such as ‘go to http://www.somewebsite.com and answer the following questions … then that is fairly basic and boring. If you say go to Google and do it, then the kids will be struggle – as you are not teaching the most critical skill – how to select and justify quality information.

A better way would be to ‘tag’ several sources in delicious – and ask why one is more applicable or more authoritative than the other. They will still learn the ‘content’ but the need for learning is to compare and justify it, not just use or identify it. Delicious is the ‘worksheet’. All you had to do was create one ‘tag’ for the students, which is less work that stripping out content and re-packing it for paper delivery.

If you can’t give up paper – then this activity can be done with paper. Students can use the tags and the content in the ICT lesson, make paper notes and then do some offline activity. That is a better use of the time you have – and you are teaching critical literacy.

So thats the rant for today – make the most of the time you have in ICT, and don’t simply make it an electronic search of the classic text book chaper task. Kids can find millions of pages about anything you ask them to look for … there is TOO much information now. A decade ago there was less. It was easier to find it and much more obvious if Site A is better than Site B. That is no longer the case. Think before you print! Finding ‘the’ answer is not as important as choosing the ‘most relevant’ in a context.

Digital Winter

I’ve been working on a (not sure what to call it) – thing that’s a bit too big now to call a blog post.

But the idea in it is that of students being in a ‘digital winter’ when it comes to ICTs. I think that several years ago, ICTs were more engaging to students, but as technology became ubiquatous in their lives, the activities often have not moved on.

So the ‘digital winter’ is the idea that many students have frosted over in ICT lessons and are reasonably ‘cold’ when it comes to motivation. Perhaps this is why so many simply copy and paste information, rather than become engaged. We talk about students being passive in ICT, but I think it’s worse than that, I think they are often stone cold.

So in designing activities in mainstream classes (not project based learning), I think that rather than being a teacher, you have to think about being and ‘information architect’.

How do we present information so that it thaws out students? How do we present it to students so that they engage with it – from multiple perspectives?

Central to that is finding ways in which the activity itself relegates a lot of the ‘copy and paste’ experiences to what they in fact are, low order thinking.

How can we ‘copy and paste proof’ learning and raise the levels of learning to higher order thinking? How can we do that with out making it overly complex, or too prescriptive? How can EdTechs (if there is such a person) model this to teachers who may have fairly low interest in ICT, or have limited access to it? ...

There are a lot of questions raised, just in thinking about developing an activity that uses read/write methods, so its very helpful when students help you out with some of them.

One thing I’ve learned, forum discussions are best used when students start them. They tend to attract 4x the responses than if a teacher does.

Teachers should join the conversation when asked and not wade in with their thoughts. Being seen overtly monitoring and commenting in a discourse community makes it a ‘creepy tree house’. The value of the forum is often that you get a window on the ‘zone of proximity’.

Here is an example of students doing just this.

Create entry documents that are are ‘short’ on details. Let the students identify this! It creates discussion.

The project is introduced, not all answers given at the outset. It is a concious decision – not to give out all the answers, or even all the information. Un-packing a brief is as important as answering it.

I’ve lost count how many times in the past that I’ve told students when reviewing exams ‘read the question!’.

Maybe they do, they are just not great at unpacking it. Creating discussion allows them to ‘find fault’ – something they love to do – and it helps them unpack the overall picture. Sneeky, but it works.

I also try to desk-top-publish briefing documents.

Okay, so I’m an ex-art director (ouch the salary drop hurts) so its not that hard for me to knock out some InDesign or Photoshop – but presenting the task as visually ‘different, is another key motivator. Advertisers know the value of making visual statements that make people stop and think.

More often than not, most school assessment tasks are rather bland and predicatable word documents off a ‘schooly’ template. They represent a slow test, not an exciting activity.

Back to the Digital Springtime … creating peer debate and interest motivates. Motivation leads to effort.

One for All Grade Assignments

Rather than design an assessment task that is handed out in several grade classes, and worked on in ‘silos’. I am learning that desiging one in which the entire grade work in a discourse community – works better. It is also way easier to model and support the teachers – who are also often thawing out.

Using your PLN to bring ‘outsiders’ into the project makes it more authentic and adds more interest. What is great to find out are forum discussions that indicate that the students are warming to undertaking the task.

In a grade task, it only takes 5% of students to get engaged early, to draw the interest of the others. Immediately, a new pedogogy is created, and the project takes off. Just be sure to call it a study group with Senior Students, not a Blog or a Ning or whatever. Does it work? well this project went live 1st September 2008, this discussion was started 3 days after. The students are indeed not used to this ‘kind’ of learning – but they do engage with it – once they thaw out a little.

I read and thought about Kim’s post about the professional development cycle, and this lead me to think about the learning cycle.

  • Re-engagement comes from out of a “Digital Winter”, so you need to suprise and generate interest in a project though their curiosity.
  • “Digital Spring” happens when a few students start to ‘try’ out the EdTech and sandbox it – More students watch, than take part, but never the less, the hit stats show that more visit than post.
  • “Digital Summer” happens when kids start to lead the discource community, taking over often from the early adopters, and from the teachers
  • “Digital Fall/Autumn (proper)” – the evaluation and reflection of the project – usually started again by students.

Of course what we are all dreaming of is the Endless Summer! You want to make sure the Winter is short. So that we can learn from the task, and invent a better one!