Activating Leadership

PRESIDENT Lincoln is reported as saying “Men moving in an official circle are apt to become official – not to say arbitrary – in their ideas, and are apter and apter with each passing day”. He was talking in relation to his social philosophy in which he valued communication with ‘ordinary’ people, not just receiving office-seekers and bureaucrats. It strikes me that despite our almost god-like technology that our current leadership seems grotesque oppositional to Lincoln’s philosophy, a man who was often called disruptive in his time.

I wonder if technology, once used to create hierarchy and singularity now needs leaders who can receive ‘ordinary’ people.  I get this feeling that we are increasingly involved in the unification of science with disciplines such as the humanities. This is activating the intrinsic human mind’s pre-programming to participate in the process of learning. The artifacts of 21st Century learning; blogs; wikis; podcasts; youtube; virtual worlds and games are conflict with mechanisms of the past – firewalls, filters, proprietary software, private networks, experts etc.,

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It seems plain to me that the authors of the hidden-curriculum, those who are 21st Century teachers are seeking a much greater rallying point than some appointed bureaucrat responding to marketing, surveys and political party lines. This activates nothing, and places emphasis on the ‘cost’ and ‘opportunity’ that they are providing us, passing responsibility of professional learning principles or executive. These people are likely to make poor(er) decisions, follow the guidelines of office-seekers and ideology.

We need to activate executives and principals as collaborators with an ability to act independently for their community. Something enjoyed by Catholic and Independent Education – both of whom have the SAME duty of care as public. Yet the policies and ideologies are massively different.  Mr Whitby says is a consistent voice in the community,  Greg Black, tirelessly tries to open up conversation – we don’t see this reflected in pubic education – which loves to give itself titles that end in the world ‘Authority’. Open up, we want to come in.

How worse would a school be if it took ONE laptop out the look and re-allocated funding?

Take $5000 and throw it into pedagogy. A virtual world $2000.00 (blocked), a campus blog ($1000) blocked; pro-flicker account ($50, blocked) – for less than the software cost of one laptop – schools can activate so much more opportunity, but have been lock-stepped from it though the policy now in place, which is driven by notions of centralised governance; in a world which clearly rejecting socially. Don’t let the costs and numbers fool you – all of this investment needs activation. The DNA to do that is with online communities.

Like the naughty independent senator – there is a collabatorium manefesto won’t tow the line without negotiation. We wish to inform and be informed. In addition to infrastructure we also want pedagogy, citizenship, open resources, open learning, virtual classrooms and better policy. Its a global problem, but Australia has less people to solve it than our American cousins who are equally dissonant.

Data, transparency, and public availability of educational information are all highly desirable elements of education reform. It’s ridiculous that today a parent can find more information about choosing a new washing machine or automobile than about choosing a school, and it’s a travesty how frequently ideology trumps evidence in education policy making. Andrew Rotherham

How can they organise effective professional learning for their staff – who do they access, and how do the find these people? – This is why the back channel is important and why Twitter matters. Mark Pesce remarked to me “by any means necessary” in regard to maintaining pressure on change. To me we cannot allow the door to close in the next 6 months, as laptops find their way into schools.

DET/DER need to be far more open to alternative scenarios (and people) to actively receive advice from those who are able to help them with reform in the classroom – as well as having technocrats to interpret the operational requirements. It seems to me that though policy, action and marketing – the message, let alone the people is not yet being received.

Bureaucrats in public office have a public social duty of care to train teachers how to become active, informed online learning facilitators – not just filter out what doesn’t suit them.

For example, I want my local community to be fantastic – as that is where I live. I’m willing to help the local high school communities learn about teaching with laptops, because it matters to me, my kids and my community.  DET/DER needs to continue to expanding it’s appetite  to receiving people whom it currently sees as ‘the crowd’. This will help them recognise how in-accessible some of their current goals are unless they open up more grass roots opportunities and stop messing about with pilots.

So if you’re in 2251 postcode; give me a call – lets talk. It’s not too late – or come to the Unconference.

Policy and Risk in 1:1 Laptops

As we see laptops being issued to students directly, here in Australia and around the world- it’s interesting to look at the policies being issued to students and teachers – which then shape their use and the learning possible. Given the language. Are we ready for laptops?

When it comes to visualising policy, a word cloud helps me to illuminates the ‘mood’ of the document.

This illustration is from a school laptop policy which beginsstudents will not disable …’, and then goes on to list a long list of terms and conditions under which students can use them. The entire document is built around fear and control, passing significant, long-term risk and responsibility from the issuing authority to the student.

As a parent, I’d be weighing up the risks before agreeing to such terms as;

“never plagiarise information and will observe appropriate copyright clearance, including acknowledging the author or source of any information” and “responsible for any breaches caused”.

The personal computer under overt policy becomes a personal tracking device. Mobile computing means flexible thinking; and shared risk.  I wonder how policy affects the learning outcomes. Risk passed directly to the student regardless of their ability to interpret or comply with it? – How does that encourage better pedagogy? How is this being taught and assessed? or it is a case of wait until it happens, then determine who was at fault.

A photo for example, used on a blog or powerpoint? Does the teacher understand copyright?, will the child ask? How can we validate that it is the original source … how much time will be afforded to addressing these issues in busy curricula?

So if we allow digital sources into student work, then we have to be clear as to which parts are being assessed against the usage policy and which against learning outcomes. At a time when teachers are often critisised in their use of technology, the policy that acompanies the device will to a large extent determine the way in which it can be used. We have come a long way in educational technology, but in reform and policy there seems to be an increasing shift of responsibility on children. I’m left wondering if we classrooms are ready for personal laptops in learning and teaching … and have put a 10 second poll online which I hope you’ll add your voice too (or leave a comment).

23 Things about Classroom Laptops

ruddstoolboxLAPTOPS in the classroom will be for many teachers a rude awakening or a liberating departure – depending on your ideology. There is no disputing the fact that students will have a printing press on their desk.

Schools are not ready for this; but teachers have to be – so I’d like to put forward 23 things teachers might consider in regard to a problem that we’ve been talking about for a very long time.

I highly recommend you read this post about Dr Alan Kay’s thoughts over at Parallel Divergence. I was thinking it was 3 years ago, and have been corrected! – I love the inter-webs.

So in the tradition of 23 Things, here are just some of the considerations that teachers might consider in the lead up to laptops ‘hitting the classroom’ as Nathan Rees puts it.

1. Modding Behaviour

Students will also want to mod the laptop, which will probably be locked-down. Modding it, or circumventing the security will be a mission for some students – as a laptop is so much more useful when it’s tuned to the user.

2. Work avoidance just went digital

Laptops present a wealth of opportunities for the strategic learner to avoid work: low battery; lost wifi signal; ‘lost’ files etc., a range of ways to rebel.

3. Screen-wagging and DVD Draw popping, display flipping, keyboard locking …

An interesting behavior – Students often like to ‘waggle’ the screen back and forth in group discussion. They don’t even know they are doing it much of the time, but is often distracting to the teacher. It is a sign that they are in private conversation and off task. Find ways to make them accountable for their own time. Students may ‘prank’ others by locking their keyboard, remapping drives, setting the keys to type backwards, flip the display etc.,

4. File Sharing

Sharing is a behavioral status currency. A laptop is an excellent way for students to share video and music they have downloaded illegally. Students will share work via flash drives, hard drives as well as emailing it to each other.

5. iGoogle or other portal to friend-networks

Laptops represent an opportunity to stay connected with friends, there are numerous ways to stay connected, and students are increasingly using asynchronous methods such as Twitter and Plurk, not just Messenger. You need to find ways to bring that into class, not try and ban it.

6. Search

Learn about ways for students to ‘search’ beyond Google, and create lessons around how information is shaped to appeal to a diverse range of learners. Googling and using World will be incredibly tedious for students. If you don’t know how to use visual search engines, custom Google search, Wonderwheel yet … now would be a good time to find out.

7. Sage on the stage

If you stand at the front of the class, you’ll see the back of laptops, so movement around the class is important. Sitting students in rows doesn’t work like it used to. The best place for the teacher to be is online and mobile – learn to multi-task and be prepared to access and work with students – online after school (great way to build respect).

8. Learn to use ‘mass’ collaboration tools and create learning spaces

Find ways in which one or two students can ‘share’ work with many. Create online spaces where students can use ‘friend-networks’. Do not expect or ask students to work alone as they used to – that is the last thing they find motivating. Teachers will not be provided with these spaces – they need to be created in context with the needs and preferences of their learners.

Example: Three students take notes; then share with others; who then improve them online.

9. Digital Blooms

Learn about Andrew Church – (if you really must stick to Blooms).

10. Use Diigo – everyday.

A Diigo account – even if teachers do nothing else, learning to manage student progress via Diigo is a critical skill. Use Diigo as a forum, a learning management system and an exercise book!

11. Don’t be boring!

Using a laptop to type in answers to textbook questions, print them out and hand it is absolutely facile. Your textbook is NOT compatible with student motivation towards technology. Boring computer activities lead to work avoidance strategies and self-interest use of the internet.

12. Don’t try to win the proxy war

Filters can be got around, they will always find a way. Entering a proxy war means more wasted time trying to work out what sites will work – You have to test your lessons using THEIR proxy (web access) – as you’ll find that things you want to use are blocked. Overtly policed and blocked networks are counter-productive.

13. Learn about Enquiry, Problem and Project Based Approaches to learning

Social construct approaches work well with technology – but take MORE preparation.

14. Music soothes restless minds – or distracts them

Consider allowing the use of headphones for study (yes the like music), but also consider how great they are if you are giving them a YouTube to watch or a Podcast. Encourage them to remix, recreate and construct new audio – to put intrinsic interest to positive use.

15. The wipe-board is no longer the hub of activity – unless you put it online.

The board is not the place to ‘look’. Consider how it can be used to work with ‘small groups’ to workshop ideas – and use the laptops as a student management tool to keep them busy and focused on work – not you or the board.

16. Parents!

Parents find it hard to judge if students are working at home – or playing (socializing). The lack of text book and pen might send the wrong signals. Run parent orientation nights! – Get in guest-expert to talk about the issues and benefits – get parents onside.

17. Get a school mentor! or enroll teachers on professional learning plan (not a ‘tools’ trail – they suck)

If you don’t have an ICT integrator, or cant identify a teacher-blogger, then get a mentor. Invest in a long term, 12 month, mentor program to allow teachers to undertake a course that leads them through the re-establishment of new skills and classroom management strategies. You won’t achieve this in a day’s in-service. Make sure you are working with a practitioner at all times, not a ‘consultant’ who can’t drop into a school and model their theory in practice.

18. Empower and enlist your Library

Librarians are teachers with an additional skill – enlist them in your classroom as a team-teacher. Don’t ask them to find online resources for you – that’s lazy, as them to teach you how to do it, or teach your students.

19. Teacher will use the same strategies as students when the going gets tough

I don’t know how, I don’t like to, No one has told me … expect that some teachers really do believe that schools never change and will refuse to change their teaching approaches. You won’t get 100% buy in – even if they nod politely in staff meetings – asking for help is challenging for some – and age is no indication of belief and attitude.

20. Leadership is critical!

Powerful learning, comes from passionate, motivated teachers who never stop learning. Don’t lock-step these people by industrialist notions of hierarchical power play – or resort to moral or ideological pressure to teachers to do more. It is a long slow process to renew learning, not overnight change. Recognise how important the goodwill of staff is – given the absolute lack of central government funding to invest in teachers – the way it is investing in infrastructure. The criteria used to target ‘future leaders’ is not going to be as effective as it once was, so be prepared for innovation to come from the grassroots.
21. Get student advisory / maintainers.

Students make great tech experts. Enlist them in general maintenance of laptops – don’t assume students know how to care for laptops! – Learn about OH&S, OOS in regard to the Ergonomic use of laptops. If all you do is put them on the desk, then there are some serious OH&S issues happening. Develop a maintenance and support program – and allow students to run it. Let students have a BIG say in how IT Support should work.

22. Plan for ‘wi-fi’ down times or server failures.

Do not make the laptop the center of the activity – just in the same way we never made the ‘calculator’ the centre. A lesson should not fail or win – because of the laptop or lack of.

23. If you don’t have a learning management system – get one.

If you’re a department get Moodle, if you’re a teacher, use Edmodo if there is no Moodle. Managing digital learning is thought, not labour intensive (of can be).

If you are a school leader, then my suggestion – come up with a strategy and long term professional learning program for staff. If you don’t have one, drop me a line. Don’t assume that it will all just work or get better – it won’t – you are going to have to find ways to invest in people – even if the politicians won’t.

Look forward to any more tips – or mods to this list!

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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.