Wikipedia is near enough good enough

97338266_ed37f724dfWhich is more important – getting the answer right or learning how to get the answer right?.  Rather than run PD on skills, maybe you need a U-Turn?

Googling the word ‘solar energy’ at the time of writing responded with  23,500,000 references. That is a lot of reading, which may be one reason that students often favour Wikipedia in which thousands of people try to define and classify the term in just a handful of pages. They don’t see the value in understanding how that summary has been arrived at. Its just there to use.  Learning to how to get the answer is the part of learning that should be teaching with ICTs.

Wikipedia is not always right (as students will often tell you), but they do think it is ‘accurate enough’. For so long, they have been copying and pasting its content into essays and presentations that teacher in-action has made it acceptable.

But what are teachers doing to guide them though the critical thinking processes to evaluate information? What formative scaffolds are in place to be able to show the development in understanding though critical analysis of information from a wide range of sources?

Jenny Luca spoke recently in an online discussion in the Powerful Learning Practice network meeting. As a teacher librarian in a girls secondary school, she has noticed that non-fiction borrowing is almost nil because students turn to the internet for faster ways to get ‘facts’.

I don’t see this as a problem with ‘the internet’ or that books may become redundant,. I see a problem with assessment.

Assessment has been based on repeating ‘content’ back to the teacher in classrooms since back in the day. Mapping student response to syllabus ‘content’ and therefore meeting a learning outcome is the accepted method in most classrooms.

But there is no new learning in using the Internet to do this. It is simply a searching task. Wikipedia is as students say ‘accurate enough’ to give a matched response to question, and pass. When students present an essay or PowerPoint – teachers tick the ‘ICT box’ and the ‘content’ box. Teachers accept that is ‘near enough’ too. Seriously, how could any 14 year old not be able to present a graphical, accurate slideshow to explain ‘solar energy’.

A teacher will say ‘yeah, but I have a test – so if they don’t learn it, then they will fail’. Is that the point of learning to pass a test at the end – or to develop and support them in the process of learning. Testing is not a ‘digital insurance’ policy just in case your students Googled the answer.

Use a test to check to see if students learned ‘enough’ at the end seems to be an acceptance that what you did in the process of learning was not sufficient to gauge the depth of their learning without it.

Teachers need to learn how to use ICTs to develop independent critical thinkers and devise formative strategies that demonstrate a continued effort and growth in student understanding. This is academic not technology skill development.

Professional Development needs to be a three step process.

Firstly teachers need to become ‘media’ and ‘network’ literate and understand how technology and people impact learning. Secondly, they need to want to stop teaching. They need want to become designers, mediators and facilitators of the process of learning. They need to develop ‘media’ aware formative assessment methods that demonstrate how students derive meaning and answers, not just repeat them. Lastly, they develop greater awareness technology itself in order to learn about and select the appropriate ‘tools’ to achieve these goals. They won’t and can’t do step three without the first two.

I worry that the term Web2.0 immediately means ‘software’ when talked about in staff rooms and PD sessions. In order to begin to understand how to use any of it effectively to change learning, it is critical to start at the beginning, not the end. ‘Looking at Web2.0 tools’ is the end of the journey, not the start. It all starts with curriculum renewal, which leads to professional development onto effective classrooms, engaged learning and better outcomes – for students. It’s academic development just as much as it is technological.

Has your curriculum expired?

4576395_e360bb5439_oOne of the projects I am undertaking at Macquarie Univeristy is ‘curriculum renewal’. It taken me a week to read all the planning and research into this – and I’m not done yet.

In K12 speak, this is looking at ’21st Century Skills’, those things that have previously fallen outside summative performance testing, yet recognised as critical skills to be a lifelong learner. Having the ability to collaborate, participate etc., to act out a role in society as an ethical, productive and reflective individual.

At Macquarie, student capabilities are an embeded part of the curriculum, with the ‘curriculum renewal’ project – specifically addressing the wider issues in the 21C discourses.

The questions being asked are very similar to those that K12 is asking (or perhaps those which I’ve been focusing on before last week).

How do we teach institution-wide graduate attributes?  How can we measure the capabilities of our graduates?   How can universities bridge the gap between institutional rhetoric and the reality of the student learning experiences?

The process of beginning to do this involves, as we know, mapping the curriculum to these capabilities.This I think is where K12 Curriculum Leaders need to, well, lead.

Identifying and being clear about these in a school – and articulating that to parents and staff providing the opportunity to explore and select technology tools with pedagogical approaches towards change.

It is not going to be something that can be done quickly, but then since when have schools worried about ‘speed’ in relation to adoption of technology. It has been a long, slow process in schools – not a revolution, but a consistent evolution since the 1980s.

The last few years have seen change like never before – and perhaps as technology has become cheaper and easier to access – we notice it more than once we did – when Computing was a Science – not a fact of life.

We can’t ignore or deny that social networks and our ability to create, share and publish – is something that students can do – easily.

What skills and capabilities do we need to provide learners beyond content related learning?

The challenges in doing this in such a large institution as Macquarie, with thousands of staff and distributed students are very similar to school systems. There is a need to develop capacity in both teachers and learners to develop these skills – over time.

In a discussion today, the Ed Development team could identify lots of opportunities to introduce blogs, wikis, second life, virtual classrooms etc., but the challenge remains – how to develop ‘teacher’ technology-savvyness to see where in a unit of work, or classroom that these are best deployed. We accept that we will need to help, support and probably ‘do’ it for a while – but the goal is independency.

We can’t expect to ‘sit’ on skill levels as we once could – new ideas, new tools and new opportiunities appear daily. We can’t know everything … but at the same time, we do know we can’t sit still as we have done in the past.

I wonder if in the rush to see read/write, collaboration in K12, spearheaded by innovative teachers – how many ‘curriculum co-ordinators’ are actively seeking to define and build school policy around these student capabilities? Do teachers find curriculum leaders a barrier or a gateway to what they are trying to provide students?

Given we are in ‘exam’ and ‘A to E’ reporting, how do we convince parents that these skills are just as important as exam grades. How many schools have clearly identified them in the current curriculum and mapped them against outcomes – so that teachers know exactly what they need to learn in order to meet these using ICTs. Curriculum and Technology are not exclusive anymore, one needs the other to survive and remain relevant to learning into the immediate future.

Change starts with curriculum leadership by identifying 21C capabilities and making firm committments to staff and students that if the process is started, then it will be supported and maintained.

Will the curriculum you have simply expire and become less and less relevant to what students really need – be that K12, TAFE or University. How long is the expiry date on it? 1 year, 5 years a decade?

Mass Leaderhip, Mass Change


Why put an amazing teachers on a full load? – sure they can take ‘difficult’ classes and do magical things – but maybe, just maybe if we put ‘time served’ aside, and put them into ‘every’ classroom – to team teach with ‘every’ English teacher, then they would reach hundreds more students.

As managers, leaders, risk takers, modelers and mentors, they would quickly identify and probably solve teaching and learning issues in their stride. They are connected to a global peer network, the sum knowledge of which cannot be measured in traditional HR ways. The HR people will want to define ‘amazing’ for one, then want to know if they are 5 year amazing or 10 year amazing etc., but thats their business and business is good.

What is the cost/risk/danger in trying this to ‘the system’? – a salary? a hierachical change? systemic change? – I can’t see any reason not to do this – apart from money.


Investing in HUMAN INFRASTRUCTURE is more important than investing in BUILDINGS or TECHNOLOGY itself. But then people are hard to own in the industrial age sense – and the bargain between employer and employee has never been more challenging as people no longer require organisations to assemble and re-organise better ways of doing things.

  • We can’t judge how hard a teacher works, by the number of hours on class.
  • We can’t assess how inspirational, creative and connected they are to their learners and learning by time served
  • We have to recognise that to get kids to use ICT in connected, relevant ways, then we need teachers who do this.
  • Learning is a conversation – be part of it – talk and listen (listen more)
  • We can’t make salary the only bargain between employer and worker.

2008 has been a year in which the seemingly impossible – not just possible, but world changing.

  • Lots of rich people crashed the world economy then put their hand out to poor people to get ‘their’ money back that they screwed out of them in the first place. 
  • Some guy called Obama took out the top job in the USA and he wasn’t white.
  • A bunch of year 9 students learned that writing was fun – in a day.

Educatorsin 2008 are connected today in ways that were unthinkable even a year ago, yet administrators ponder the next 5 years. I have no idea what education could look like in 5 years. Its not me kids are waiting for.

Surely if there is a time to take a risk on changing how where we put amazing teachers – its now!

I once saw a sticker for a Volkswagen Bus Club which read ‘Don’t Join, Just Wave’ – this I think is the offer to our leaders, we are all waving at you – take a risk before schools become museums.

It is a massive effort to sustain ‘shift’ enthusiasm and focus, and at times if we stop waving – its because we are human and not ‘cogs’ in your wheel.

Things change, and we drop out of sight. We don’t want to, but thats how life is – notice us.

I leave the school feeling pleased with the massive changes that are happening – but frustrated as others are, that k-12 education is still referenced, judged and structured on out-dated policy, inflexible workplace arragements for teachers, salaries structures, in-equality, access restrictions … blah …

I hope that I’ll keep talking and working for the benefit of k-12, as I take up my new role.

So this I guess is the last ‘High School’ blog post from me … thanks for watching and talking … if I can help anyone out … then let me know … I share.

Connected Cohorts

In the information age, the decade that was the 90s had an underlying message “stay ahead of the curve when it comes to technology, or risk being left out of the loop.”

Offices created ‘cube farms’, where workers did ‘information age things’ in very small spaces. The ‘Cube Farm’ lead to an almost sub-culture, and life in the ‘cube’ still remains a substantial source of inspiration for parody websites.

The cube farm seemed to visually enforce the idea that the information age worker was hard wired to communication tools, and could work globally without ever moving a metre and a half from their desks.

What they didn’t tell the cubical worker in the 90s is that their job would moved to Asia and India where volume ‘information processing’ is conducted more profitably. The very act of being globally connected by technology means they should have mentioned that you needed to be ‘creative and innovative’ with technology – not just conversant.

Post 2002 saw an increasingly fragmented media landscape when people have a range of choices at their disposal gave rise to the idea that you don’t need to be an information worker, and in fact no one got left out the loop, simply that the barriers and costs of technology have come down to make it affordable to most of us in our society. Though of course, we do exclude lots of people.

Our connectedness allowed even those in cubical farms to reach out and connect with the world, via Facebook, MySpace, Digg etc., The effect of which is that offices have to a large degree rethought the cubical walls – and that if people actually talk to each other at work, then it’s actually not such a bad thing after all – because there are so many way in which they WILL do that anyway.

If we look at education today, there is much talk about Open Classrooms. This is actually a pre-information age idea from the 1970s, but has returned as a popular discourse.

The open-classroom movement originated in British public elementary schools after World War II. Open classrooms’ focus on students’ “learning by doing” and reflected the social, political, and cultural changes of the 1960s and early 1970s. An era which also saw the rise of a youth-oriented countercultures.

On one hand we have the ‘instructional classroom’, populated by passive learners and chalk and talk teachers. On the other, the teacher who recognizes that the read/write web opens up new opportunities using technology via inquiry based approaches.

In Open Classrooms teachers structured the classroom and activities for individual students and small work groups. They helped students negotiate each of the reading, math, science, art, and other interest centers on the principle that children learn best when they are interested and see the importance of what they are doing.

For a range of reasons, mostly social and cultural, the Open Classroom had faded by the end of the 80s and education returned to more structured, test based summative learning approaches with specific curriculum detail.

There is little doubt that educational ‘trends’ come and go.

‘Open Classroom’ has a new connotation – it’s internet based.

The catalyst for the current discourse is the internet, the falling cost of ‘being connected’ and the hardware needed to do it – that began with the mass introduction of the home micro-computer in the 1990s. The idea that every innovation dreamed up by reformers inside and outside public schools makes its way into the nation’s classrooms is false. Education reflects so many cultural and social trends that at any point, there has always been debate as to which is the best model. The answer generally lies in ‘what is the best model at the time’.

I think that one critical technology has changed the how we use technology in learning – from ‘instructional based’ – where we information is often (but not always) “presented” to a learner (via lectures, textbooks, and testing) -or student-centered where knowledge is often (but not always) “discovered” by the learner (via individual and small-group work, projects blending different subjects, skills, inquiry and questioning).

That critical technology is TCP/IP – the element what was not present until the advent of the internet in the 1990s.

The New Open Classroom now is that connected to the read/write internet.

The classroom teacher who understands the value of allowing students to create, connect and share – is more relevant to their students – but only when they do that effectively and selectively.

The New Open Classroom may also be a virtual classroom – via Adobe Connect or Second Life. It also brings into play the ideas of Ray Oldenburg and creating ‘Third Spaces’ for learning.

These do not have to be ‘teacher lead classrooms’ – they can be discussion forums, Second Life Simulations, chat rooms, blogs, nings and wikis. They are online places that do not follow ‘instructional protocols’, but at the same time do not need radical building reform or pedagogical overhauls in ‘all education’. They might not even be created by teachers or lecturers but by students – but they do need to be understood, not rejected out of hand, based on the idea that they are too social, too liberal or not explicitly designed as ‘edu only’. A student who works well in these spaces needs to be accommodated – as it is a learning style like any other.

Best of Both Worlds

Perhaps we can have the best of both worlds. We have educators with a wealth of experience in instructional and inquiry based approaches to learning.

We have those who prefer single classrooms with single subjects, and other who enjoy team teaching with more holistic subject approaches.

Perhaps the approach is to recognize that students will benefit from the best of both worlds, and that TCP/IP based practice is the important link between them, not the differentiation.

I don’t think that it is beneficial or acceptable for students to have to learn predominantly by ‘listening’ or ‘copying’. Any teachers that think they have all the answers or that the text book is sufficient are clearly misunderstanding the power of Wikipedia or Google in delivering information on demand.

There are times where I want someone to show me, or tell me – I don’t want to jump through hoops to discover it.

Professional Development

To me a successful approach to professional development is not about about efficiently you manage your IT, or how many Web2.0 tools you can use in a project. It about knowing which approach is applicable. Blended, multi-modal approaches work best – and work to the strengths of the staff – you can’t take a teacher whos been used to ‘instructional’ approaches and tell them to now use ‘inquiry’ based, throw a few days training at them, and hope that will be anything other can totally confused, frustrated and under-skilled.

Blended Learning Approaches

I don’t see why a school should be a PBL school or a Regular School.

I don’t think that it is any harder to create a unit in a ‘regular classroom ‘ than it is a PBL classroom – and give students that opportunity to demonstrate their learning.

I don’t think all students benefit from PBL-only approaches any more that ‘Instructional Only’. But surely we don’t have to be absolute in our offerings.

Life is not absolute. There are times when people will tell them and they will need to remember it and times when they have to figure it out and come to their own conclusions due to confusing or missing knowledge. There is increasingly more accurate ‘facts’ available, and aslo increasing ‘rubbish. Students do need to know how to evaluate information –  but at times, the formula for the circumference of a circle is just that.

Forcing teachers and students to be ‘all for one and one for all’ – is blatantly oppositional to the socially-connected world we live in. It also marginalizes significant discourses such as where ‘virtual worlds’ and ‘game based’ learning will feature in student engagement in the next few years – the ‘what comes next’ plays a major role in what we should do now in building capacity.

The critical issue is that we provide quality, relevant learning experiences – that recognise the ease and benefits of extending those experiences though technology, and use a variety of ‘open classrooms’ to do it.

Heppell from the 90s

Its amazing how my interests change. From what can I do now to what should I be thinking of next. What happens after we get critical mass to allow students to participate in connected digital conversations. If the goal is simply to share an electronic exercise book – is that indeed a worthy goal at all or short of the mark.

I’ve come to accept that social constructivism theory, when played out in online discourse communities, does unify, encourage and improve student engagement, perhaps not at the top end of the class, or the bottom – but certainly, those in the middle appear to engage in deeper learning. I have little doubt, that when students are given projects that intrigue them, that are in someway worthy of exploration, then they are much more engaged than learning in passive environments.

This needs enthusiastic teachers, armed with online access to engage students in personalized, reflective learning – and Web2.0 tools are very good at achieving that.

I’ve been following the connectivism and connective knowledge ‘open online course’. George Siemens and Stephen Downes co-facilitate the course and the daily email they send out is so packed with ideas and suggestions, that its hard not to engage in it.

Aside from the content that they are putting online, the very idea of running such a powerful course online and for free makes me rethink about how and when learning can take place.

Chris, sent me a link to the UNSW’s YouTube space – a respose to an article I read about students at UWS being unhappy with ‘podcast’ only lectures.  Two more ‘spaces’, neither physical or time critical.

When I think about ICT integrators, integrating learning technologies into classroom – I wonder if this is what High School should be doing? and if so –  for how long? When will we be pre-packing, opt in and on-demand learning as normal activities (and what age is that appropriate). We might think never, but I imagine we could have said the same about Universities not too long ago. Ewan McIntosh is another example with his 4iP project – where the boundaries and definitions of learning, play and content become fluid, collaborative and networked. What kind of people will work at 4iP? what do our kids need to learn to work at a place like that.

If University and academic study is moving to ‘open classrooms’ and ‘breakout areas’, then are we in fact saying that small groups can work more effectively when connected to everyone else by technology than physical space.

How much of our lesson structures accommodate the notion that learning only occurs between set times, lead by set individuals within set boundaries (something I’ve been challenging in in the design of the 9th grade Animal Farm project).

Will our desire to rethink and build new physical classrooms – be pointless, as much of our learning will be in virtual communities via mobile phones or point of view cameras by the time they are built. I learn so much from so many from the comfort of my lounge … physical interaction is now socially driven, not ‘content’ driven.

I love this video from Stephen Heppell in the 90s and find it quite amazing. Even his latest presentation from K12 Online, gently asks questions about if we are even thinking about what is next, let alone what that will look like. Are the futurists right? If so, what happens to all those guiding education right now – how many of them are ‘futurists’.  I wonder if we are focusing too much on what we want to see in the classroom today and not thinking enough about what all this connected ‘usness’ means in the future.

I worry far less about teachers learning about tools, or kids using them – as I do about where we go after they become as Chris Lehmann recently said – like Oxygen, and Chris is citing a student who asks

“we need to have the ability to choose our own education and not have our hands held all the way to adulthood for we will be a child trapped in a human’s body mentally and won’t flourish like we were supposed to. In short the concept of school is horrible but the concept of learning things you like is what matter most.”

Spaces, realities, conversations and language become increasingly fluid which has to be problematic for educators who like: classrooms; doors; timetables; bells and defined terms of reference. If anything the industrial age model that was never really quashed (in education) by the information age in ways we saw in the workplace or our personal lives. Now we are faced with the ‘conceptual’ or ‘media age’ … we are reflecting and perhaps predicting the future, based on the last decades massive shift in ‘connectedness’ and ideas of time and space.

The question asked today was ‘what to you think 21C learning is’ … perhaps the answer is … another tidemark on the ebb of learning to a much more distributed and networked model.

Where will learning go? …. mmm, more questions than answers. Damn you RSS reader, I’m still at the beginning.

“And I can’t understand a word you say”

I read Jabiz Raisdana’s post about Recruitment2.0 which has a great description of the characteristics of what I’d call a 21C teacher. In fact I think that the word ‘teacher’ is now a little mis-leading, as the 21C teacher is also an information architect. But I wonder if out ‘leaders’ have any capacity to understand the diagram posted.

I also read Beth Holmes talking about her experiences in watching and listening to K12Online this week in which she says

The timing for reading Stephanie’s post could not have been better. Last night I was completely “taken” with Alec Couros’ K12 Online Conference presentation “Open, Connected, Social: Reflections of an Open Graduate Course Experience.” The viewing experience is a total package – a real “trip!” The viewer is entertained, taught, challenged and extended.

This is a very important passage. Firstly, Beth is talking about learning outside school and outside school hours. She is also connecting with Alec (who is influences everyone) and about a conference that is online. She is then talking about the learning – and that statement to me is exactly what teachers should be doing in class.

If I compare the two posts, it illustrates one of the major problems that ‘leaders’ talk about when they publish comments such as “We have such a diverse pool of talent in our schools.  It is important that we tap into, challenge and engage our talented teachers if we are to continuously improve the learning and teaching”.

I am not sure that they are any good at measuring this. I think that it is something that executives believe that they can buy in, and indeed any teacher who is not ‘tech savvy’ is going to increasingly struggle to be employed. At the same time there seems to be a mentality that all this read/write, gaming, virtual world, collaborative classroom stuff, is not something that executives themselves need to buy into. I am sure that they have a list of ‘yeah buts’ for that, but that is of no consequence.

Leadership is not about authority and it is as much about listening as it is talking in my view. Someone has to create opportunities for this leadership to be effective, but I think that at time’s our battle plan is almost 17th Century.

Leaders on the hill who’s point of reference is a classic view of engagement, based on a set of established protocols and procedures.

Unfortunately Beth’s passage does not fit that notion of leadership. Beth leads herself. Jabiz is talking about moving forward as a teacher and learner.

He’s answering the ‘executives’ call to ‘tap into talent’ loud and clear – but the criteria that he suggests is needed for 21C teaching – the very things that we have to embed into practice in order to be a relevant professional in the classroom – are not the criteria for pay and promotion, leadership or professional development in schools.

While teachers are being flexible in the way they learn – and deliver new ideas (for free) into the classroom, the systems are not.

For example, schools do not fund home internet connectivity or flexible work place practice. They are yet to recognize that the hundreds of free hours 21C teacher spend learning at home is directly related to classroom – and therefore school performance and the future of our students.

I really believe that the nature of the school workplace, the terms in which teachers are engaged needs to be reformed. I just don’t think that our most senior leaders are quite ready for just how much.

It is simply unacceptable to drop laptops into classrooms and expect teachers to suddenly become effective media age developers of 21C pedagogy.

It is also morally bankrupt of executives to issue this a significant criteria for employment without recognizing that these people are ‘leaders’ – in ways beyond a ‘pat on the back’. 21C teachers are not foot soldiers, don’t make that mistake.

If you do, then there is no avoiding your own Executive Waterloo.

The coalition is all of us. Despite decades of Empire building, you are at risk of loosing it all as the control mechanisms used to define ‘career paths’ are less and less relevant to the ‘connected teacher’. You have to understand that, not ignore it. If not, then you are left to argue ‘morality and loyalty’ to retain teachers, nothing more – which I think is patronizing, given the effort that most 21C teachers have made to get where they are.

In response to the idea of the Intrepid Teacher – 21C teachers – connected to the metaverse – are on one hand welcomed as agents for change, but at the same time are not invited into the officer’s mess. This is a remnant of the industrial age. If you work hard over a long period of time, then you may be selected over someone else from the shop floor. But the new shop floor is the metaverse, where teachers are connected to media bloggers, teaching bloggers, futurists, gamers, technocrats and all those people thinking very seriously about change – who are not ‘just out’ of Uni.

Just as in the art of war, technology changes everything that went before. Clay Shirky talks about how … the German Panzer commanders defeated the French with lower numbers, because they understood the power of communication using radio to co-ordinate and react to ever changing circumstances … They were connected. He also talks about how a group can be it’s own worst enemy.

My constant concern about education (and don’t get me wrong, I want all teachers to succeed for the sake of themselves and students) – is the lack of executive ability to acknowledge the need to build CAPACITY – and to be brave enough to appoint innovators and student-leader teachers to positions where that capacity becomes SUSTAINABLE.

That to me is impossible if no one in the officer’s mess has any understanding or what Jabiz and Beth are representing. We are frantically reporting what is happening, but the message is not heard.

Maybe executives and administrators are hoping they can hold back the lines until help comes. But no one is. Each day they leave it or employ policies of the past to control the organization, it gets that much harder not to become a landmark in history.

My final salvo is aimed at pre-teachers and those at University. You really have to decide which army you are going to join right now. You have the opportunity to base your teaching on the theory of the past, but with the tools of the future – and make sure that when you arrive in the classroom, that you are a leader. You lead your students – and really, you don’t need anything more than an internet connection to do that. On the other hand, you could wait to be invited into the mess – eventually. Don’t do that – learn from your collegues experience, and apply it to conversations in the metaverse.

Graphic-A-Day#6 – Driver, please stop the bus!

I had a discussion with some EdTech teachers about the idea that has been put forward by a number of administrator types who are suggesting that in order for education for change and meet the 21st century challenges, we need to get the ‘right people’ on the bus. So todays graphic is about that.

I don’t think the ‘bus’ is an appropriate metaphor at all.

They are notoriously late when you actually need them to be timely. They are over crowded or virtually empty. Their prescribed route is repeated, regardless of traffic conditions. The occupants rarely interact. Some commutors have to stand while others recline. Everyone is passive, their only choice being when to get off the bus. They are also far too small, so often never bother to stop to collect their passengers.

If we must use a mechanised metaphor, then I’d rather ride the bullet train. It’s fast, comfortable, well designed and efficient. But then I like trains, maybe we should just be asking people about what kind of journey they are going on instead. In my experience – its the people you meet that make the difference as a teacher and learner. You can’t do that if you the last one on the night bus.

Who was Ray Martin?

Ray Martin, delivered the 13th 2008 Andrew Olle media lecture, which is available on iView. Mr Martin is a journalist of Australian legend, old school and part of the mass media establishment, presenting on the Australian 60 Minutes – a show which personally I find a little hard to digest, but then I don’t watch much TV.

Lots of very rich people from the 20th Century mass media culture, all listening to the current issues – as he sees them.

Well, I’m no one, let alone a journalist, but I did take notice when he commented –  ‘content is king, and always has been … and always will be’ – in reference to the quality of Australian journalism.

He went on to talk about the lack of investment in journalism generally, the cutting of staff, and lacking media networked TV shows on topics such as finance.

What I found really interesting was the off the cuff swipes at ‘internet content’. I am sure he is an amazing journalist and has changed the landscape blah blah … of old school ideas of media and content creation, but omitted to identify the power of the read/write web.

There was no mention of the way in which the internet is changing content itself, and that must hurt the ‘moguls’ as he called them – given that every media outlet now has a ‘blog’ feature or a ‘comment’ feature in it’s attempt to get some form of fractured conversation.

I think its still significant that shows like 60 minutes offer some ‘after show’ chat room – which is heavily moderated. Again, in todays ‘conversation’ – the mass media is still anything but democratic when it comes to voices. The chat room, was just a reaction to the internet several years ago, and hasn’t really moved on from that as it has never really understood it.

In the book – Now is gone: A Primer on new media for executives and entrepreneurs (Bartleby Press, 2007), Geoff Livingston says that

There is no more ‘audience.’ There are, instead, communities. By participating in online communities communicators can learn what the community wants and likes, and can create content that’s most valuable to it. The take away from this book: build value for your community, and work for them.

I think that the audience at the lecture is not understanding that, or perhaps is hoping that it’s not true. In another book, Groundswell: Winning in a world transformed by social technologies Charlene Li and John Bernoff (2008), they say “People are getting more things they need from each other, and less from traditional institutions and corporations.” and more significantly they talk about define six kinds of online consumer behaviors.

Learning which types best define your audience (or clients, or communities, or target groups) is the first step in any strategy you take to reach them. The Creators are those who publish a blog or article online, maintain a web page, or upload videos at least monthly. Critics post comments on blogs or forums, post ratings or reviews, or edit wikis. Collectors save URLs and tags on a social-bookmarking service, vote for sites on a service like Digg, or use RSS feed aggregators. Joiners maintain profiles on a social networking site like MySpace. Spectators consume what the rest produce. Inactives—nonparticipants—still remain.

Unfortunately for the ‘moguls’ – there is now significant market research – being pushed to commercial organisations to suggest that technology has in fact re-classified the notion of ‘consumers’. Both in terms of product and information, we can’t classify them as we have for the decades in which Ray Martin has been pushing information into lounge rooms all over Australia.

We used to need to get our ‘niche’ culture fix from magazines and information was limited, that is no longer true. As a kid, I read Shoot – I used to race to the shops to get it – and find out about the soccer stars of the day – hoping it ‘might’ contain something about my local club’s hero’s. How different is that to today.

This article from 1993 in the New York Times is a good contrast between how the media used to classify us, and now how we classify us. But there internet has packed with ‘advertising demographic profile data’ in the last decade, so a Google Search is testiment to how much effort went into predicting what ‘we would want’ in the 1990s.

But now we decide what we want and when we want it. We also want to create it. Its not that the ‘moguls’ are right or wrong, just that we don’t need them as aggregators of ‘quality information and reporting’. We self regulate, self edit and sell organise in places such as Wikipedia. Wikipedia is the place I go to read the news because its created, edited and maintained by all of us, not some of them.

Why worry about what Ray thinks? – Well  people listen to Ray and know of Ray – if they are over 40.

He’s the spokesman for the Baby Boomers. This is why students don’t listen to Ray. He is irrelevant as an aggregator of information for the teen generation. He is talking to the ‘spectators and inactives’.

Changing media delivery reaction

We see TV being ‘fast tracked’ from the USA – simply because the tech savvy can get it anyway. So it’s not just teens – its 20-30 somethings too – the peak TV ratings crowd that they are ‘worried about’. Let’s not forget that the media-rich are interested in commercial gain, not public service.

Content is king – user generated content! – if you are in elementary, high school – and university.

We are simply not listening to Ray. We are listening to each other – and that is what we need to do in the classroom. We have to recognise that kids are not reading magazines as the once did, they can get their ‘pop culture’ fix from any number of sources – digital sources.

They would rather spend their money on mobile phone credit than paper.

I can’t remember the last time I saw a group of kids in the playground, discussing an article in a magazine. I am sure some do, but the first thing they do after school, is turn their phone back on, and plug back into the ‘live’ world.

Repacked Heroes

Soccer has become a product, not ‘just’ a sport. Magazines are ‘lifestyle’ driven and media-moguls have resorted to ‘glamor’ images to sell their advertising space, appealing not to ‘soccer fans’ but to the spectators and the brands that want to sell to them.

As most of the ‘heroes’ are themselves a product, the image of the player is a brand to sell product – not soccer, the magazines are often aimed at ‘aspirational male targets’ than soccer fans. In many cases, the media is out of ideas, and the content of some magazines is little more than recounts of more timely amateur content.

I see these ‘inputs’ into the popular culture of students as a significant challenge to teacher’s attempting to provide students with ‘engaging’ content.

In effect, the massive amounts of images, video and text offered, is pushing the ‘mass media’ into diluting it’s 20t century quality journalism mantra into titillation, shock and expose tat. As Mr Martin retires from the field, he is perhaps symbolic of the end of mass media, as it has been since the the invention of the ‘web press’ (ironic name).

They can’t deliver ‘direct news’ in as fast as ‘us’ so then the focus has on more social attractors – body image, status and popular culture semantics are needed to survive. This creates a whole new discourse about social change in the media, and the expansion of what we allow as ‘acceptable images’.

If we are to understand how to deliver ‘content’ to students, then we need to understand how they collect it.They are motivated by peer recommendation, peer pressure and peer generated content. If we harness that, and allow them to use that approach in classrooms, then they will be more likely to ‘listen’ to teachers. Teachers need to re-pack it. This is not optional, this is critical.

We cannot continue to present ‘content’ in the way the Ray Martin was suggesting – as expert, experienced and singularly authoritarian.

If we see ourselves as the ‘elite’ content providers, as the media-rich do, then we can’t be too surprised if students see it as ‘old’. The ‘yeah but’ here is … but it’s on the test, so they have to. They don’t. The test is not longer the ‘end game’ or the measure of a student’s worth. It’s what Dan Pink calls ‘Right Brain Rising’ in his book ‘whole new mind’ where creativity and more artisan skills are now highly valued by major companies. We have to accept that students can get ‘facts’ through technology at virtually no cost.

We need to be more able to design ways in which they can collect, criticize, create and join together to demonstrate their comprehension of ‘facts’ in a context that is relevant to them in spaces that are relevant – such as Skype, Second Life, Adobe Connect and Forums.

Ray Martin’s lecture was probably challenging and relevant to the media-rich he was speaking too, but given number of teachers who are ‘baby boomers’ and that there are significant issues in their retirement and the general exit from schools, then Ray is not talking to ‘us’ – as Stephen Heppell says.

Unfortunately, new teachers are appraised by ‘time served’ as it has always been. So under the ‘baby boomer’ watch, I don’t find it at all surprising that younger teachers (and some older ones) feel frustrated and powerless to get past the wall of ‘yeah buts’ that are in the generations above them in management structures that are there to create tiers of authority and lines of management.

Even Gen X or Gen Y teachers, are using the Baby Boomer (and their 20th Century Learning Models) as their point of reference.

I think that it’s very important that all teachers listen to Stephen Heppell’s k12 Online Keynote – when perhaps they are only listening to media-rich spokesmen.

But how many staff would get time off in lieu to attend this online? – recognized by the ‘administration’ as professional development. Very few.

We need to get rid of the myth that it’s Gen Y mavericks wanting to get WoW into the classroom as some sort of fad, but that all sectors and generations are recognising that we are past the ‘information age’ and being good at maths, science and english is not enough. Students need to be creators, editors, remixers, critics, collectors and sharer’s of knowledge too – by understanding where students prefer to go for information.

The problem is, there are more Spectators and Inactives in education … but just like any new ‘technology’ – the connected ‘usness’ as Stephen calls is, is growing at exponential rates, and as teachers retire, Ray Martin retires – there is a gap that we must fill – as students can’t wait for the last baby boomer to get on the bus

I’m sure Ray would have made a better job of this post.

Graphic a day #4 – Were gonna need a better keyboard

How to show information online as the disjointed, mixed quality bag of bits and bytes that it is? I think this photo of a rock wall gets over the idea. There are so many foot holds, hand grips to learn. Ultimately, students have to climb upwards to build knowledge from all these options. Creative thinking and effort take further up the wall. If these are the predominent keys they are using, because we don’t teach an others, there are never going to leave the ground but watch others nimbly move from idea to idea and space to space, reality to reality and job to job.

Animal Farm 2.0 – How to

Just spent a fantastic day off and on with Lucy Gresser, who is part of our PLP leading teacher project team. Lucy is one of the most creative, democratic and inspiring teachers in the schools Project Based Learning. She has an absolute passion for English which resonates with her students. I constantly think as a parent – what kind of teacher do I want my kids to know – and Lucy is exactly that.

So we’ve modeled a two week descriptive writing project today and going to try and share how this collaborative project works, and maybe give people some idea of what I consider 21C practice.

Why? Well at the end of very interesting week in which I was asked to ‘describe what it is I do’ in my role as LTST. It’s hard to explain something like this to people who really don’t have a context for it, suffice to say, this is not what LTST does as far as I know. Confused? Yeah, me too.

This is what I do because I hope teachers will do with my own kids in the future.


Once again, we’ve opted for ‘classless’ grouping of students. I am a massive believer in the ‘collaborative discourse’ community approach to learning.

This means we have 6 teachers working with 160 students – online, but in class, 2 teachers work with about 55 students in two hour blocks – in one room. In this way we blend learning between virtual and face to face.


The project runs over 2 weeks.


  • it is a digital storytelling set up.
  • It uses reflective writing as formative assessment
  • final product and presentation as a summative assessment.

The first stage is the entry document and project launch – and that is very important. The initial introduction of the project needs to create plenty of questions in the minds of students. As we move through the project, the teacher’s role is to scaffold the learning – to navigate students though ‘way points’ – from the syllabus. How they get to those is largely the students choice.

Preparing the project

To get to the launch – there is preparation. That I did using Second Life. Quite by chance as it happens. One goal of the project is to prevent students ‘creating graphics’ – but to focus on reading and writing. We know that we also need to general visual scaffold and stimulus material in reaching our end product and I’ve been thinking about that. How to make it interesting, but not schooly.

I was talking with Jo Kay, Al Upton and Leigh Blackall at the tail end of a small event – and Leigh got talking about the changes in graphic themes and styles that is maturing in lots of Second Life builds now. Lots of this is soft, organic and a kind of steam punk/manga feel. Korean and Japanese designers are often ellustive to talk to, but they are creating some amazing visual effects and spaces with that are edgy and at the same time highly detailed.

Once such space Jo took us to was JAPAN : Tempura Island. As anyone who knows me, I am an Art Director by trade – so I love to look at the technics of builds. Tempura Island is outstanding.

As we looked about, I took ‘photos’. These images show lots of interaction between characters, elements of nature, man made items etc.,

I was using SL to create a portfolio of images that the students will use as part of their final work – where they will produce descriptive writing.

There are 3 reasons for this. 1. The students respond to this type of ‘gamer’ visual representation. 2. It is very easy to do and 3. It provides the students with a ‘core’ visual stimulus to work around – in what will be a single day of final work.


Collaborative Web2.0 projects have greater impact if they are broken down into fast and furious hands on activities – followed by more sedate reflection. There has to be a degree of pressure and urgency in the task to push the students in the task – but well resourced so that the distance between a thoughts and a ‘win’ is not too far and reinforced through reflection via Google Docs. The book itself is a class text – but we also provide a Google Books link to the online text, but we want students to go home and READ.


Week 1 uses Moodle and Google Docs.
Week 2 uses Google Docs, Blurb and the images from Second Life, via a Flickr account.

The reason for this lies in the formative assessment tools developed to support this format of learning.

Formation of Groups

  1. We created 6 ‘themes’ for the final product. For example, ‘Equality’.
  2. Each theme is presented to students as a 50 word ‘outline’.
  3. This gives an ‘idea’ of what the end product might entail – but by no means exhaustive – it is named and described to create curiosity.
  4. 160 students are broken down into 7 groups. 6 groups are ‘mainstream’ and 1 group is hand picked based on differentiated needs or students that are identified as needing ‘special help from past performance’.
  5. Moodle is used to form the groups. Here’s how we do that – We open the themes for online enrolment. First in bessed dressed is the way we do it. Kids opt into 1 chosen theme on that basis. They do not know who the ‘teacher’ is who is mentoring the group online. This stops kids trying to get with their mates or hooking into the ‘best worker’ groups – as they fill up fast – and kids soon learn that if they want their pick, then they’d better get on, else that group gets filled out.
  6. Group names. We used ‘Snowball’, etc, to name the study groups – rather than a classname. This again is there to build curiosity and links to the text.
  7. Google Docs – We created 7 Gmail Acccounts for each group. Students invite their mentor – using the given gmail address – to share their individual documents for the project. This makes it simple – and private for teachers.

So at the end of formation, kids have chosen a group, set up a Google Doc and shared it with a teacher – via a special email address. Each teacher will have about 26 shared documents to work with.

Its important to note that the kids in their Google Group – may not actually be in their class. This means that the kids they teach face to face may or may not include those they teach online. This ensure’s teacher buy in and also is a stragic way of norming Google Docs in professional development.

The strategy behind this : The kids are selecting the topic, and have no bias to the teacher and visa versa. The teachers we involved in the process of choosing the ‘theme’ from Animal Farm that they want to teach. This is a strong bargain.

Week 1

Reading is not a normal 9th grade activity. Reading a whole book in a short space of time is even less so. In week one, the students read the 100 pages or so of Animal Farm – which is made of 10 chapters. Our expectation in the classroom is simply reading. 2 chapters a day in class/home. At the end of the lesson the teacher asks one question – relating to the text. This formative assessment is based on comprehension and communication, and equates to 30% of the end mark. The teacher has the ability to vary the question – depending on how they feel the previous responses were made.

I think that it is critical – in 21C learning, that we leverage the teaching experience and skills of staff – and not dictate inflexible lesson planning.

Students respond to each question (2 per day) using Google Docs – together with the a reflective addition – “things I wonder about right now”.

During the first week, the students are learning that sustained, personal reading is valuable. The teachers can allow quiet reading – or model reading with all or some of the students in break out groups.

We are not seeking to explore Animal Farm in a historical context – that is another project. We are also aiming to use scaffold thier comprehension though rising taxonomy as the week progresses.

Week 2 – Descriptive Writing

The first lesson is 2 hours. In the first hour, we show them one image from the Tempura set. In the hour they are asked to write a descriptive text. A saga. So they need to research that. More specifically, they have to write a 50 word saga. This is a soft exposure to descriptive writing – and an introduction of the final assessment criteria. This is 10% weighted and sumbmitted via Moodle. Most kids will nail this – and its really important to start ‘new’ projects with ‘easy wins’.

In the second hour, the kids are given a ‘writing brief’, and watch a short video. This is just an Animoto – using the 6 themes and images from Tempura. This is called the entry document. This informs them of what they will do to create their final product – but at this point the have little idea how to reach the goal.

The end product is a book using Blurb – and the images supplied from Tempura.

  • Each book is a collection of short stories.
  • There are 6 chapers. The chapters are based on the themes and the Google Doc Groups.
  • Each chapter has three short stories (one per student).
  • The story is constructed around the images – and the themes that they chose at the outset – taken from those in Animal Farm – so there is immediate meta-cognition for the students to scaffold from.

This is where collaboration returns. In the first week, they worked in a Google Doc Group as individuals, now they need to work together, so each book is produced by taking 3 students from each theme.

During the week, the teacher models the descriptive writing process. For example a teacher may ask students to write an alternative last chapter for Animal Farm or perhaps the first chapter of a sequel. Again this is open to the teacher to decide.

The end product

Using Blurb, the students produce a short story of 800-1000 words – on a single day. For example, they may create a story called ‘Julies crisis’ – their contribution to the chapter. In effect it means that we have a ratio of 1 teacher to 15 students during the writing day. They will have to use Google Docs to submit an outline by a deadline – which will be graded, then the majority of the day given over to writing.

The final product is the assembly of the book itself – largely a cut and paste task from Google Docs.

Students then submit their final work as a .pdf file into Moodle to time and date stamp it.

Evaluation and Real World relevance

I like everything to have a real world aspect in learning. We’ll invite an external ‘friend’ to read the books and to select a ‘winner’. Each student will then get a copy of the book using Blurb as a hard copy. Each book is then evaluated and feedback given to students.

This gives them incentive – the chance to have a quality portfolio piece  – A professionally produced book, with cool illustrations containing 8000 words on average.

In addition to this, we will offer each of the books for purchase online. Students are invited to consider how to market their work, and as a default position, they will be offered for sale to parents and community using PayPal or Blurbs ecommerce engine via the schools website or their personal blogs.


I think that giving students not only the opportunity to write a book at the age of 14/15 – but also to sell that book to everyone and anyone is poweful. The proceeds of sale go to the authors. We often talk about each of us having a printing press – but in this case I think its important to show them that not only can they complete this task – but you can put a value on the work.

Designing a project is FUN. Its fairly manic – and we constantly are looking to encourage some activities – and negate others. For example, there is no value to a student in attempting to Google any element of the project and there is not opportunity to move away from reading and writing. There is no ‘graphic design’ and so no need to worry about ‘design’ or allow students to ‘bling up’ their work – that is not the focus.

To me being a 21C Educator is not about delivering ‘content’ but developing learners to achieve authentic goals using technology. This kind of project, and working with teachers like Lucy to unpack ‘how they learn’ not ‘what they learn’ is the difference between so many teachers, but anyway – this is what I do (or did).

If you want to know more, talk about it, comment on it – then I’m more than happy to do so!