The whole world in our hands

This video appeared last week, vanished and has now returned. Laptops (Netbooks) in schools are a welcomed investment and if nothing else will finally driving some modern infrastructure in schools. It is unknown how many laptops, when or if there is on-going funding to reach year 12. Elections will probably have a lot to do with that. So is this a public information film or advertising. It obviously cost a lot of money, and is that where public money should be going? It presents like Huxley’s Brave New World, mixed with edgy sound track, cross-processed images and plenty of handy-cam angles, complete with Nathan Rees in a school at the end reinforcing the message of who made this happen. It reminded me more of the ‘you wouldn’t steal a car’ anti-piracy ad than information – it  offers mixed messages and assembled by a committee, not a creative vision.

Students are script-reading to their peers is pseudo ‘cool’ tones.

“No cyberbulling, no sharing of personal information, pictures or emails without permission” say the students also pointing out it has security features so the school can shut it down and take it off students who are not using it correctly. Apparently it is bye bye paper and hello music and games at lunch.

To me this kind of spin-doctoring that puts public education at a disadvantage and does not reflect reality and the viewer assumes this aligns to outcomes, pedagogy and professional development of teachers.

And then comes the hookline of assurance.

“We’ve got the whole world in our hands” and ”technical support comes from schools”

Quite clearly they are net books not laptops, students won’t be playing games at lunchtime on a DET network anytime soon as access to the new world is though the filtration system. It seems likely that most students will break the ‘rules’ in lieu of any formal ‘digital citizenship’  or educational programme (they don’t recognise the same boundaries). The technical support needed to maintain this fleet of laptops is going to be epic. Anyone who has experienced 1:1 knows just how hard it is to scale and maintain over lengthy periods. It seems much of the effort will be applied to ‘securing’ them, nor exploring. Yet the ad presents as if this is all a given and Mr Rees is unleashing something really innovative. It has the potential too, but no certainty.

This is what irks me – not the machines or the opportunity but use of this media to deliver a clearly political message, which is less than the whole truth – either as an ad or public information.

I am not sure who it is aimed at, and I’d love to know how much it cost. I don’t want ‘better than nothing for my children’ and I want them to stay in quality public education and no amount of post-production is going alter the reality that this is a futurists view, not a realists. I want to love it, but I can’t – there is a long way to go and this is quite simply premature and misleading, high on rhetoric and low on evidence. I notice that comments will of course be moderated until someone re-posts it.

++update++

I just read Shelly’s post about Blizzard deciding to blow up it’s entire World of Warcraft game in order to make a new one. Well worth a read if you’ve not been to Teach Paperless before.

“For thirty+ years, we’ve treated schools like boardgames. And every few years, we’d announce that the game was changing, but we kept using the same board and the same pieces. We changed the rules, but forced the players to use the same old dice”.  He goes on to explain why fundamental change is needed “Because our kids are dying to take on new adventures. After all, they live in a world where they expect upheaval and change; they don’t understand why so many of us are so afraid of it.”

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.

Graphic-a-day #5 – I’m Engaged

Engaged Learners are active in making sense of the world – through media literacies.

They are not listing, identifying or seeking, but collectors (delicious), critics (comments), creators (youtube), phototogaphers (nokia), composers (garage band), joiner (facebook).

The pace of change has not yet been matched within education-especially higher education. We need curriculum leadership that values flexibility over rigidity, and process over content.

Media Literacy should be a core component of all school learning frameworks.

Yet with our complex system of faculties and departments, courses and units, curricula and assessment, we offer students little control over their own learning. We should be discovering which are the most effective way of using technology to facilitate learning and building classroom practice from the student outwards.

The NSW Quality Learning Framework promotes

  • Intellectual quality
  • Quality learning environment
  • Significance

These are very ’rounded’ desires. As a parent, I am not sure these things are anything less that I expect from the educational system. Whilst some schools are still preparing to adopt the aims identified in the QLF, the Rudd government has released proposals that transcend many of the ‘desires’ of the older framework. Specifically, greater ‘online’ learning.

Online Learning is in itself a complex notion – do they mean ‘learning management systems’ or facebook? However the original NSW QLF is far less specific about technology than the federal government is.

The Howard Government’s was cited as having a lack of investment and passive approach to technology. Rudd’s ‘digital revolution’ has been labeled ‘too ambitious’ by the NSW Teaching Federation and the Department of Education – who deliver on the QLF. By 2012, over 16,000 of teachers will retire anyway – placing the burden on higher education to deliver ever greater levels of ‘tech savvy’ teachers.

Darcy Moore describes the problem.

“As you know we have been concentrating on professional development and introducing systems to support digital learning. We really need leadership at the moment and expectations are not being met”

Engaging students through ‘frameworks’ is problematic using 20th Century management strategies. The ‘lag’ between policy and adoption is getting bigger. We need to be brave and clear about what ‘online’ means. Engaged online means active online, not spectators – for everyone – not just students.