What’s right with this classroom?

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This is a photo of a virtual world. I’d like to highlight some of the pedagogical features of this room. Firstly, the IWB and projector is off. The teacher is not standing in front of it as the conduit between information and learning. Secondly the students are not using small netbooks, and using desks with a high degree of ICT-friendly ergonomics.

On the desks are pens and paper, so presumably the teacher has prepared some structure, instruction that requires writing and brain-mapping. The more tech-savvy observer will notice students are using Quest Atlantis – individually – yet collectively exploring a virtual world.

A year or so ago — this classroom, this pedagogy — this learning experience didn’t exist. The thing that changed is a teacher. Not a teacher attending some PD or being told to use some application — but a teacher who wanted to be better and took it upon themselves to invest the time and effort to learn. More amazingly – this teacher completely changed their subject and role – taking on a challenge that a year before wasn’t even something under consideration.

We do not need league tables, websites with statistics or netbooks sans-pedagogy – we need to recognise any teacher or school who does this for students – because they want to. This is the missing-website that the government is unable to conceptualise let alone make and spend millions promoting.

This classroom didn’t cost millions of course – Quest Atlantis is free, safe and pedagogically sound. It is blended learning with critical thinking and shared reality — motivating and compelling.

We need a website for ‘the league of ordinary-teachers’ in Australia, kicking-new ideas and leaning new skills — despite crap workplace conditions and Ministerial spankings.

A motivated movement that highlights the issues being faced – from poor training, lack of access and  OH&S issues that demand refurbished learning environments and new work practices.

From this movement would come a better Bored of Studies and a truly authentic Virtual School – delivering advice, content and learning where is it needed most. The cost of doing this is zero. The number of bureaucrats and politicians needed to run it is also zero. Right now the legal, ethical and social debate of the HSC often rages unseen – yet the HSC itself is getting spanked over the way it operates.

This classroom — and this story, illustrates why spanking teachers and focusing on one exam undermines the very system that politicians are attempting to score capital from.

They should be talking about what kids are learning in a small town in Montana – because of one teacher. I just had to share this photo – it should be happening in all those schools who just got spanked.

What a totally depressing week in edumacation.

Don’t blog – Rez!

WE CONSTANTLY seem to hear about ‘leaks’ and ‘errors’ when personal information appears online – and powerless to retract, control or predict it’s impact.

The ‘culture of participation’ is not an opt-in experience as there is no opt-out.  We are tagged, poked, @’ted, linked, referenced and befriended to the point where the representation of ourselves is fractured, atomized and abstract. We don’t even need to decide to put a footprint down – by making a blog, often – as my Director pointed out today – the employer lists an enormous amount of information online for you.

Do we really need to put students into this environment?

We are as liberal with information today as hippies were with flowers in the sixties – we love to freely express our experiences, creations and opinions with often little regard for ourselves or others – we justify this as being ‘virtual’ – when in fact nothing is virtual – it is connected to us all the time – even when we move on.

We create virtual worlds and avatars into which we project ourselves.  Those busy stomping their foot prints in the digital landscape often place virtual worlds such as Second Life or Quest Atlantis as marginal learning spaces – where games, fantasy and user generated content is immature or facile. I beg to differ. Having an avatar in a virtual world is an excellent idea for students and teachers – your avatar is you. You own it in safe fail environment, where you control the IP, where you decide what happens, where you decide who to talk to, who to work with and what you then leave behind. This, to me is a lot safer and sustainable than blogging.

Its not about ‘publishing’, its about ‘learning’ – and social media is not an idyllic environment – though a virtual one can be. I can only wish I was going to GLS5.0 – as some of the ideas and work there is not only inspirational, but also some of the most meta-cognitive, most enquiry driven, most motivating and Safe Fail places to learn for students – not just K12 – but TAFE and Higher Education.

I am not saying avoid online media and collaboration – just that places like Skoolaborate, Ramapo Islands, Edmodo, Moodle, Elgg etc.,  seem to me to be a lot safer than the real one right now – especially when schools start pushing hundreds of kids ‘online’. Joining a virtual world project and using that – still seems to me to a very wise move – and in terms of motivation – ask them what they’d rather do.

Image : Don Hosho

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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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