Like Fire

bush fire growthIn a Talk With Howard Rheingold and Will Richardson now on Ustream – I was particularly taken with their discussion on how social media impacts pedagogy.

Rheingold talks about it acting like ‘fire’; ideas and interests to leap from one area to another quicker and faster than institutions can react and slow change may in part be due to the terms of employment not encouraging professional development leading to large scale pedagogical shifts in learning. Interest and peer driven social media in education allows teachers to make this shift regardless of institutional objection or indifference. Right now there is little alternative for teachers as ‘leaders’ dither and procrastinate.

I took from this conversation a real sense that the ‘systems’ binding and controlling pedagogy now will be less important in the future.

Constructivist approaches to learning that understand and embed social media in read/write approaches – brings about renewal. Renewal means staying relevant to the world around us, recognising that our 19th Century pedagogy is failing. Rheingold talks about ‘fire starting’ ideas – exemplified by someone posting a ‘tweet’,  they talk about how it gains their attention and takes them to new places and new people – where they learn. The example highlights how people are essentially interest-driven difference engines. We notice things that look interesting – especially if they also appear different.

Rheingold calls George Siemens online Connectivism course –  a ‘roll your own University’ – and that people are now finding connections and learning in places that are off the institutional radar.  Rheingold suggests that learning to prioritise and manage online activity is something we must to learn and teach. To focus on the immediate, but be aware of the peripheral opportunities and connections, and find time to explore them. Rhiengold talks further about how he has to manage his message boards for class, his blog, his social bookmarks and the various other ‘network’ demands that he considers vital to his professional life.

Alvin Toffler: “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”

This conversation highlighted to me that a ‘networked’ learner means being in at least two realms constantly – because we are at a time of cross-over. We cross back and forth from the 19th to the 21st Century. While some school leaders enjoy the ‘cudos’ that  creates – students need the renewal of pedagogy and schools need to support teachers in this goal – not alienate staff or continually debate wether or not Web2.0 is a ‘good idea’.

The conversation starts talking about the landscape around where Rheingold lives. Living in Australia, it amazes me how fast a bushfire can move and the devastation it appears to cause. I am equally amazed how fast the ecosystem renews itself – it is a natural process for which we cannot dictate terms – merely be prepared for the event.

The metaphor of the bush fire leaping great gaps in the pedagogical landscape, causing havoc and then renewing learning is entirely apt in Australia’s current K12 educational climate. Right now we have a few spot fires … but sooner or later the wind will change (or so the students hope).

Great interview that once again challenges my thinking.

Wakoopa – Time of your (digital) life

picture-14This is a great little gadget, for mac and pc. Wakoopa is a widget with code you can embed online. At first glance, its a tool that watches how much time you spend with various applications. Great for finding out just how much time you’ve ‘wasted’ in Second Life or WoW perhaps.

I think it might have a far more constructive use for 21C educators. One of the greatest myths, put downs or unknowns that ‘connected’ teachers have justifying time online in networks or learning new applications. Its time that often goes totally unseen (in the eyes of HR). The amount of self-directed PD that these teachers and edtechs are doing combined with the amount of time they spend using these technologies to develop learning environments is almost impossible to measure, let along report.

I’m not going to pretend that I believe it is acceptable for teachers not to be learners or that traditional professional development models will keep pace with learning technologies. Its time to move on from passive ICT approaches.

Blogging is perhaps the most visible sign that a teacher has decided to engage in the 21C discussions and teaching approaches. But a blog post is a small part of the time people spend online, especially when starting to take in the enormity of the problems and solutions being explored by so many. You begin to read way more than you post.

Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) for example are by far an large the most important ‘technologies’ that teachers are using in professional development. These were again and again highlighted in conferences and panel discussions throughout 2008. The knowledge of all of us is greater than any one of us – as the saying goes.

Wakoopa is one way that a teacher could track their own time, but also use it to evidence their level of activity and engagement in their professional acitivity. You might not want to put it one a public page, but a private page on a blog or wiki, would be a very useful reporting tool. Of course this once again opens people to the critisism – you have too much time on your hands, you don’t have a life etc., – which to those who understand it’s transformative power, don’t really care about these days. More fool them. Recruitment ads are increasingly calling for ‘demonstrated ability’ in regard to ICTs – and I think in that regard Wakoopa could just be one of those widgets that gives real evidence of professional development.

The rise of the meta-teacher

1410539606_86f47b8e13Has 2008 been a significant juncture in education?. K12 Online was a huge hit, Connectivism ran online and numerous ‘fringe’ edu-events went mainstream. Of course the Australian government has decided it would like to filter the entire internet for us and drop low end laptops in schools.

We wonder why reforming ICT in school is hard … look at the vast differences in what is happening.

Regardless of 2008, it seems obvious that in the last decade – the power of the internet to connect us to things we want to know, buy or with people we want to know or could never meet has changed great parts of our society – of which students and teachers belong. You only have to compare the Australian Bureau of Statitics ‘Internet’ data from 1998 to 2008 to see how powerful the internet has become in our lives. We are not the same as we were.

It is not a ‘digital revolution’ any more than it was an ‘information superhighway’ a decade ago.

I see the rise of the ‘meta-teacher’. A teacher who understands that as information spews out of our desktops, laptops and phones – it sticks to the internet and potentially has to be navigated. These teachers are different. They have skills and understanding that makes them critical in the classroom, and the global ‘edu’ community. They lead, mediate, inspire and collaborate. More importantly they understand how to read, use, integrate, technology, and ‘meta-language’. They understand how ‘things’ get connected to other things. They are aware that ‘tagging’ is significant.

The teacher who thinks that a website address and Google are enough to navigate media and networks of information is gradually becoming media-illiterate – and passing that on to their students.  The ‘universal resource locator stopped working correctly as soon as we stopped hand-writing html and turned on our data-base driven interwebs. The internet is not a level playing field when it comes to content, nor does Google know which is the most relevant site for you. It has a good guess, but without critical literacy skills – how can you tell?

Meta data and meta language are how we tie information, people, ideas, resources and communities together – not links or search engines.

These teachers are power-influences . They can integrate web technology into the curriculum,  interpret, aggregate and organize information to help other’s do it too. Meta-teachers are seen as a ‘problem’ to the incumbents, and despite the enormous goodwill and passion they have – struggle to engage the laggards (who are too busy). When will parents start saying ‘enough’. Is it possible that we could blend face to face with online and rethink schools?

Right now schools are trying to stick a digital clock on a poodle.

Will Richardson recently talked about the school of the future and the discussion that followed was very thought provoking. Will increasing numbers of meta-teachers allow the school of the future – the ‘meta-schools’. Is that how we’ll reform pedagogy and curriculum. How much with Open Education influence this?

Will they appear in the same way ‘charter schools’ appeared. It’s not so crazy and idea as sooner or later someone with money will pay for it – and there will be both parents and teachers who want it. Perhaps the role of meta-teachers is not to  ‘change’ their schools. Maybe they represent an opportunity to create ‘better’ schools – or at least offer an alternative to what we have. It really would be nice to have the choice.

Digital Literacies and your child

As a new batch of year 7 students arrive at school, I can’t help but wonder just how thier learning will change in the next 6 years. Not what they learn, but how they will learn. It is almost impossible to predict what technologies will be available to them.

With out a doubt, if your child is not already ‘digitally social’, then they soon will be. They are digital natives. In short, they see nothing special or unusual about living with technology. They live a great deal of their time online. When not online they are still ‘connected’ to their social network using their mobile phone.

As parents, it is vital to understand that having an online life is quite normal. Doing homework, listening to their iPod and chatting over the internet is not seen as anything other than ‘life’.

As eductors, the challenge is to channel this into education – which in my opinion is by and large stuck in a time warp. Many students are learning at school in the same way their parents and even grand parents did. The blackboard may have been replaced by a white board, but we are still in rows, still listening and repeating, still copying notes from a board.

This is not natural to them. The world in which the teacher (or educators) is their only access to valuable knowledge (we know, we tell you) is gone. They can Google or Wikipedia just about anything. The information they get back however lacks a learning context. They can copy and paste it, but do they understand it, and can they apply it to other situations.

They seem all to often ‘wise’ but lack the life skills and experience to make effective judgements about; is what I saw accurate; did it come from a reputable source; can I use it to solve new problems. If all they do is Google/Copy/Paste in a computer room, then this is teaching them to do nothing of real value.

They have the skills to seek, they even have the tools to publish (Bebo, MySpace), but on the whole, their publishing online is purely social, as an extension of their out-of-school self.

In school, I believe we need to bring those social skills and tools used at home, into their daily learning. We need to engage them though enquiry learning.

Let them Google away, let them pull down a range of possible facts and definitions – but then challenge them to evaluate them and apply them.

I believe, based on experience to date, that allowing students to create wikis, keep and online journal (blog) etc., and putting away the excercise book improves their literacy in all years. They enjoy publishing online. They take pride in their site … but most of all they are reading and writing constantly.

The world in which they will enter will be even more social than today. It will require them to communicate electronically, to create digital content. They will show their work to others, they will need to learn to present it and learn to defend it.

This is why I am a firm believer in giving students access to a wide range of media. I want them to take ownership over their learning, and to find ways to demonstrate it using tools that ‘digital natives’ understand and enjoy.

I try to offer them the opportunity to explore as many ways of demonstrating their learning as I can find. I do not believe that ICT in school means Google and Microsoft Office.

This blog is about my exploration of Classroom 2.0. The ways in which I can deliver it and work with students to bring out the best in them and how at the school level, I can build and deploy technology that allows them access to Web2.0 using hardware and software that is being cited in the professional world as ‘the way to go’.

I believe our school offers a unique Classroom 2.0 environment, well beyond many who are mearly providing access to ‘computers and the internet’. At PMHS, students are creating content daily and sharing it with the world.

Digital Natives Graduate

We had or 07 school presentation night on Wednesday. A fitting celebration of accademic achivement in years 7-11. Places and certificates for 1/2/3 and effort. A packed house, and proud students and parents. The achivement of the students in their School Certificate was impressive, and as retiring Parramatta Marist Year 7 Co-Ordinator, Terry Nobin said “I believe this school is the best value added school in Sydney”. Given his 23 odd years of dedicated service, he has the credentials to back this up.

It made me think as I listened to him talk about ‘esteem’ in students. I was please to see a student in my class get a 1st in my subject, he had worked hard all year and well deserved. But I really felt that many students had done so well too. A collegue told me about a system of assessment where you judge your end point in relation to you start point, and though we don’t use that, it does seem particularly valid to the 25 students that this year ‘threw out’ the traditional Classroom and undertook Classroom 2.0 with such enthusiam.

So I went home and thought, perhaps, in all my enthusiasm for Classroom2.0, I have not actually let them know just how much they are changing the way students learn. I have a lot to thank them for. Its one thing for a teacher to get carried away in cyber-enthusiasm, but quite another when the students participate to the extent they have.

So I knocked out a presentation in which I attempted to show them just how far they had come. They don’t see any of this as special – I think they just like the fact that my class is different to many – but in terms of self esteem, value adding – these boys have a lot to be proud of. I also wanted to press upon them that I, as the teacher working is a system that is not designed for Classroom 2.0 (yet), cannot be an effective force of change.

I hope that at least a few will become advocates for their future learning. They have significant Digital Portfolios to show other educators that they are capable of doing more, in less time, better. I don’t dispute that teachers are pushed for time (all the time) and that the expodential growth of technology make it harder and harder to keep pace. There is a huge need to rethink PD – and the PD of support staff. What I hope this boys will feel confident to do, is to negotiate with other teachers, to allow them to demonstrate their learning in alternative (to Teacher 1.0) ways.

Here is the presentation … interestingly, when it asks them what activities they had done in other subjects this year, only PDHPE and Creative Arts was cited as using non MS Office technology as a platform for demonstrating learning.

Go on survey your year 7-9s, see what we ask them to do (over and over and over) … no wonder they are bored.