Graphic-a-day #2 of 30

Dan Mayer asks ‘How easy would it be to take short cuts’. I read this a while ago, tracked back from Chris Lehmann, and its something that during a discussion today, that kept ringing in my head as the conversation was laced with conflicting pressures over loyalty and responsibility.

I work at an extraordinary school, doing extraordinary things with learning – in extraordinary times.

I think that the choices I’ve made in being part of that have been the right ones – most of the time. Anyone making hard choices knows self-doubt, trepidation and fear – yet you make them anyway.

There is a huge personal, spiritual and emotional cost involved, from the first time you question yourself as a teacher and realise that we are actually at the beginning of learning again.

The challenges kids face today are infinately more complex than even 5 years ago, trying to identify these, and find solutions – in a system that isn’t intended to allow you to do that is hard.

Seeing the efforts of others – is a constant ‘energy recharge’ – that those making the easy choices are unaware. There is a spirit of co-operation that transcends culture, geography, religion and wealth. From the most underfunded comes advice to the most affluent and visa versa. Conversation is the currency, and students are the investment houses. The recharge outlet is called Twitter, Skype, Gtalk, Google Reader and Second Life. We hear and see things that makes us believe that it is possible through the fractured conversations in the metaverse – despite our localised reality.

Within the confusion of our present culture, we are faced with opportunities the like of which we haven’t known. And I believe that our present ‘crisis’ has a lot to do with the fire and water through which we must go if we are to grasp those opportunities and make the most of them. This is of course just one of many situations where the global community is struggling with the question of the local option – and where, of course, multiple ambiguities can be found which muddle up the moral dilemmas.

One of the phrases and tactics used in advertising to get the maximum out of workers used to be – “if we don’t get this done, then we’ll loose the client”. That mentality still strikes me as ridiculous. Firstly, the was rarely a ‘we’ – as they mean ‘you’, and secondly, the client was never ‘yours’ but theres. There was never an ‘all for one and one for all’ bargain between us.

There are multiple reasons that something could or could not get done – and often quite beyond the control of the poor sap that was being told it. I heard it a hundred times, but never saw a client walk because some designer didn’t knock out that logo colour variant by 4pm.

I think its the same is schools. School will go on regardless of one person. Its not one persons school – but the sum of all the passion, effort (or lack of) between all the participants. If there’s one thing that I feel administrators need to do – above everything else – if find out who is making the hard choices – like Dan Mayer – and if what he’s doing, is something that you want – then for goodness sake – also look at how he’s doing it and don’t try to apply 20th Century Management Strategies to demand or retain that. That won’t build the capacity needed to get from ‘storming’ to ‘norming’.

Time served is is not the most essential criteria to make judgements on teachers pay or conditions – if you are talking about 21C schools, and I think one of the biggest challenges to the way school systems are operated. If time served was the secret to success, then how come all those experienced, institutional executives just wiped out trillions of dollars of the world economy. Anything is possible it seems, but change starts with a choice. I made mine.

Yeah But,

Will Richardson’s statement @PLP this week made me realise just how many ‘yeah buts’ I’ve heard in the last couple of years, which must be tiny in comparison to the amount Will and Sheryl have.

What he said was so relevant “it’s not about the students, the system, the syllabus or the the technology … it’s about you … what do you want to do in your classroom that will better prepare kids for what comes next”.

He was talking about the real fact that teachers hold a massive moral and professional responsibility to recognise, as Stephen Heppell put it this week, “if we are intending to create 21st century centres of learning and in that 21st century – connected learners, then when you use technology to teach, then use in in ways that are not 20th Century.

What is your yeah but? – It doesn’t matter if you are in computer classroom all the time, are hardly at all, the key thing is that you answer your own yeah but.

So I made a poster of the ‘yeah buts’ I meet all the time. Got more?

Teachers Without Borders (Kenya)


Konrad Glogowski has come back from his mission with Teachers Without Borders Canada.

At the Jokaydia Unconference in late September, Konrad introduced a fantasic exhibition of photography and textures as part of the two day teaching and learning conference.

Teachers Without Borders – Canada is a non-profit, non-denominational NGO devoted to closing the education divide through teacher professional development and community education.  TWB organization focuses on the building of teacher leaders.

They work primarily, but not exclusively, in developing countries, in order to build self-reliance, health, and capacity.

Konrad talked about how TWB is trying to develop sustainable teacher professional development, using connections waith global education, finding teacher leaders and building capacity.

Teams 5-10 teachers – conduct workshops and seminars in Kenya, which has poor access to computers and internet. So communicating with teachers is usually via internet cafes. TWB sees connection as a major goal in Kenya and are working with over 60 teachers in 2 townships in South Africa – to get them more connected to communities of practice. He spoke about how TWB have formed partnerships – with local organisations, government and commercial sector – to respond to local needs identified by local organisations

This work is based on the needs assessment to  plan, design and deliver workshops but TWB does not work with students, apart from observation. His Second Life build give opportunities experience Kenyan classrooms that can’t be achieved in 2D media like FlickR. The exhibit was designed to give an experience of what a classroom looks like and feels like.

The build includes textures from walls and the envronment, together with a very graphic photo exhibition to explore. It gives a graphic idea of how Kenya’s elementary classes might have 140 students to 1 teacher or secondary with 60/70 kids. The tin roof is scortching hot, and classrooms rarely have anyhing on the walls. Paper based resources such as maps and charts are too expensive for the schools to buy, so most classrooms are hot, crowded – but enthusiastic. In the photo above – there are several nations represented from tertiary, secondary and primary – all sharing ideas on how a build like this could benefit students in learning about Kenya and the massive issues they face in education.

Second Life is adds a new dimention to presenting, what is essentially a photostory. The ability to create a school in proportion, use authentic textures, and recreate details, such as the blackboard – which is not a board, mearly that the wall is painted black, due to costs made the discussion with TWB in the space an air of reality, that I don’t think would be as impactful as a slideshow. Avatars were free to wander the compound and get a feel for the spaces and issues that TWB were talking about.

The TBW website says that At 59 million, teachers are the largest single group of trained professionals in the world AND the key to our children’s future. Equally amazing is the estimated need for more than 30 million NEW teachers to achieve the goal of the U.N.’s “Education for All” initiative by 2015.  The issues are complicated by the number of children who do not go to school at all – 104 million, 50% of who live in countries touched by conflict.

Konrad is an amazing educator, and I am looking forward to woking with him and Jokay in the next year in researching and developing sustainable projects using Second Life. At a time when teachers ‘want more’ else have lots but don’t maximise the opportunties – I think that projects like this make a very powerful statement about the growing digital divide. For more information, check out the TWB global site.

Think before you jump!

A few people have asked me about ‘where do people start’ in re-thinking their use of ICT in the classroom. This photo kind of sums up what can happen if you decide to make a lot of noise unexpectedly. Noise is good – as long as people are expecting it. If not, then it may have the opposite effect, making change a lot harder next time … if there is one.

One of the ‘dot com’ phrases from the lat 90’s is applicable to getting into Web2.0 in your classroom is “the biggest risk to your success, is your success‘. In other words, if you get too carried away, too ambitious, then you see some amazing results initially, but sustaining that becomes problematic as you try to scale it outwards. Getting beyond your immediate classroom is actually easier by working with someone else online than it is with the teacher next door. Forget changing your school, just change yourself.

Start with the students.

Think about not what you are into (this week), but what is it that the students know, or need to know – in your subject. Adding technology will not make kids any smarter at all. You need to be very clear and very strategic. You have to think about ‘waves’ of revalation with your students. You can’t just keep moving endlessly though the savannah of web2.0 applications that spreads out before you.

Take it a term at a time.

And be well prepared to do that! – If you are teacher who works a day out or even week out, then you won’t pull it off. Why? Because your day to day teaching is dead. You are no longer going to have all the answers, no longer stand at the front and command. You will be an expert learner – supporting novice learners. You won’t have all the questions – but you will be scaffolding the goals/standards/outcomes – and how kids will reach them. If you like to ‘wing’ it, hand out worksheets, set text book execises … think long and hard! You are not going to pull it off, and you’ll confuse students.

Get involved and develop a personal learning network.

Professional Development, as it’s been for decades is dead. Learning is a conversation and people are organising without needing their management structures to do so. This means being online. You might be a fringe dweller – who looks and listens to conversations – or you might like voice, audio chatting. You might even get a Second Life (which leads to some amazing new ways of looking at yourself and the industry you are working in). But if you think its a game, then hey – collect your ream of paper on your way out.

Put down the ‘tool’ and back – away slowly!

You need to get into the conversation because everything gets easier if you do. If you are not in the conversation (and there are a millions of fragmented discussions going on right now), then you will remain one person. The power of you + network is what makes your classroom work. Don’t worry about ‘the tool’ or learning ‘how to use it’. Before you go anywhere near that, you have to be absolutely clear that you are prepared to do all this, prepared to be more flexible than you’ve ever been before and that you are prepared to support your students – online – whenever they are online. If you clock off at the bell, this aint for you. Hang on – its not about you right? – It’s about the learners. That is a fundamental self-check. If you are not prepared to live it, not talk it, then back away now.

Preparation before doing.

Before trying anything … I’d suggest you take a look at the following 10 things. A pre-flight inspection if you like. Have are clear for take off? – You need to get this stuff clear, written down and well planned. Any fool can sign up a class for Ning – and hope kids use it. They will, but what are the value adds. You have to start somewhere … so here’s a list of 10 things I think people should address before jumping.

Getting into Web2.0 Classroom?

Things to consider :

1.    Don’t expect anyone in your staffroom to empathise with your new found vision. Where you previously sourced information (your primary sources : collegues, professional publications and Google) – you will now start getting them from your network – this is alien to most teachers.
2.    Start with your students and work outwards. Changing your teaching style and their learning style is far easier than changing the world.
3.    Work out how much access you have in ICT classrooms before deciding anything. Access determines the ICT level you can work at. Be realistic.
4.    Develop a clear understanding of ‘Digital Reputation’ – be clear about what activities (ePortfolios) – using online read/write technologies can they use in the future. Discuss these with your students. Make it a project! – Make sure you understand how they see it.
5.    Develop a clear understanding of ‘Media Awareness’ – In the context of what you are teaching – how do you want to teach students about ‘filtering’ for your subject. Write down your goals, and discuss with your class.
6.    Take your librarian out to lunch. Find out how they can support you and your learners in research, literacy and copyright/creative commons.
7.    Get a network. Your network. Get Twitter – use twitter! – It will change the way you learn, and the way they learn – it’s an ecosystem.
8.    Prepare to spend time online – at home – some of the best teaching and learning happens in Ustream, Skype and Second Life.
9.    Listen to podcasts – buy an iPod – listen in the car or where ever – podcasting is blogging out loud – and there are some great Ed Tech stories out there.
10.    Join – start reflecting on your teaching practice – take part in conversations. Develop a learning network.

Another dilemma!

Assessment. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the verb ‘assess’ means to ‘evaluate or estimate’. It goes on to define self-assessment as ‘assessment of oneself or one’s performance in relation to an objective standard’.

In a collaborative assessment task, most teachers and students know that the work of each individual will not be equal. To compensate for that we add some ‘individual’ task. This strategy seems to be in response to ability of some students to do little, knowing others will do the work for them.

Why do hard working students accept this and what can teachers do to combat it?

Perhaps both the teacher and the student is caught in the ‘prisoners dilemma’ scenario, both in different concentric circles. One in the classroom, one in the school system.

The prisoners dilemma is described as the following according to Wikipedia.

“Two suspects are arrested by the police. The police have insufficient evidence for a conviction, and, having separated both prisoners, visit each of them to offer the same deal. If one testifies (“defects”) for the prosecution against the other and the other remains silent, the betrayer goes free and the silent accomplice receives the full 10-year sentence. If both remain silent, both prisoners are sentenced to only six months in jail for a minor charge. If each betrays the other, each receives a five-year sentence. Each prisoner must choose to betray the other or to remain silent. Each one is assured that the other would not know about the betrayal before the end of the investigation. How should the prisoners act?”

Some students are used to facing this dilemma in assessment. They simply accept that they will have to allow other students to not participate, and to do the work regardless. Often they will receive good marks, despite their peers.

However at the same time, they do not gain the experience or rewards of shared-experience and shared-learning. They have closed the doors to negotiated participation. It is simply easier to do it alone. This is a learned condition that is reflected in online collaborative discourses.

These students usually offer little reflection about the input of others or how others have influenced their initial thinking on some topic. They may describe the collaboration as a basic recount, but doesn’t demonstrate any engagement with their peers.

Their writing reflects on the events and instructions – rarely on the achievements of group interaction.

At the same time, their peers will write about what the group is doing, how it is hopeful  of achieving the project goals – but rarely describes how that is being achieved or evidences any artifact to support that they are working as individuals towards the group goal.

Their writing is polarized. One talks about the ‘task’ and evidences their individual learning and ignores the others. The other is passive and observes and narrates the actions of the others.

Work is shared – at the end of the assessment period with their peers. It’s a group assignment, so they need to fulfill the bargain. But neither work effectively as a group during the process.

The Student Dilemma

Working online highlights this dilemma – when projects are designed specifically to resolve this core problem in pedagogical approaches to ‘group work’.

The ‘marks’ from the assessment may more accurately reflect effort, participation, communication and collaboration.

Content in these assessments is the ‘glue’ binds the project.

Evidence so far that I’ve seen, feedback from students and teachers, points to improvements – but only among active participants – this applies to students and teacher participation.

This is in performance in comprehension, application and retention of content – The majority of students, especially those in the ‘middle order’ have a much greater ‘scaffold’ to use as a framework for learning and visibly benefit from being part of it – so participate at levels not seen in the traditional classroom.

Unfortunately, the passive student often scores badly in summative assessment. They simply did not participate in the formative activities.

Previously they might score well in group projects, riding on the coat tails of others, but now the body of ‘digital’ evidence in formative assessment, I think, is less of an ‘estimation’ of performance and more of an ‘evaluation’.

The School Dilemma

But this poses a curriculum and school dilemma – especially if you introduce group tasks specifically designed to solve the student dilemma.

Some students will ‘appear’ to be doing worse – as their grades are perhaps more reflective of their performance. I would suggest that they are doing as they have always been doing – but online approaches are removing ‘estimation’ form assessment. Teacher has massively more ‘evidence’ of learning to use.

In senior students, this will mean that un-reformed curriculum ‘tasks’ may appear to achieve ‘better’ grades as the assessment is far more open to being an ‘estimate’ than a reflections of the individual.

Online communities use ‘time and date’ as their point of reference, so despite a teacher arguing that this strategy provides insightful formative ‘always on’ assessment opportunities for teachers, and supporting peer-learning networks for students – the school is ultimately measured by summative A to E reporting.

No one will do ‘too’ badly in this model. We have to create mixed ability groups, to ensure equity. Some of these students have relied (or willing to gamble) on this to bolster individual assessment grades. Overall – it will pan out in their favour.

Playing the ‘prisoners dilemma’ game that no matter what the other player does, one player will always gain a greater payoff by playing defect.

The systemic dilemma

So on paper, the introduction of assessment tasks that use online technologies, as form of formative assessment may lead to overall ‘school’ grades appearing to dip – as students learn to adjust to the changes.

Are we willing to accept this ‘dip’?

Reform in assessment needs to happen holistically and teachers begin to truly understand how fluent technology use can change learning and assessment. It may be something we would like to work towards, but I wonder if this ‘shift’ in learning and assessment poses questions for the curriculum and the wider system that they are not ready to answer – yet

Does judging school performance by summative assessment hold back collaborative online learners?

Where did the work go?

What do parents think when their kids school really starts delivering on the promise of 21st Century Pedagogy? Not the end result, when they sit the exams, but right here right now. There is a possible issue if we don’t effectively communicate what happened to their work. As parents, we soon learn from primary years, that our kids get homework. We are keen to see them doing it, and keen to help them if we can. That homework used to come in a familiar book. In our school, kids also write their homework in an official diary. Parents are instructed to sign it, so they know that we’re giving them work to do.

This, to parents, is what learning looks like. A physical book, a record and observable activity somewhere between getting home and bed time. If you then start getting kids to work online, then the line becomes really blurred. There is less observable evidence, and therefore parents become concerned that their child is ‘doing less’ and therefore may be ‘learning less’.

Communicating a radical shift in the process we’ve been insisting on for a long time, must lead to some concern. For example : I have a project running with 156 kids all working online in their current project.

This is a massive shift, and we’re working hard to embed reflective, critical literacy inside the project. Writing in a community, reflecting on their learning is a critical 21st century skill, and doing it on this scale poses teachers with a very different pedagogical challenge. How do we co-ordinate feedback ‘visibly’, so that parents can ‘see’ what their kids are doing, and how their teachers are supporting this.

One way is to ensure that parents get the URL and get to observe, not just the work, but the collaboration, success, frustration and creativity that as teachers, we see, but couldn’t before give parents a value added shared experience.

Secondly, we encourage teachers to reflect on the week, using the same scaffold that we are modeling to students. It also helps with the comment challenge. If we comment too much, we are overtly interfering with the very ethos of project based learning. If we don’t comment enough, then we are seen as apathetic – doing little more than ticking off the event of posting a journal entry.

I am encouraging, and modeling, the idea of teachers using a weekly post in their page of ‘Ning’. It is an opportunity to show kids that we are learners too, and that we are listening to them. It is also a powerful way to ‘weave’ the learning scaffold – by referencing the work of kids using hyperlinks. Rather than say ‘It been great to see students understanding the project’ – we can hyperlink a few words to a few examples of what we are talking about – so we are evidencing teaching success and student support.

In a class this week I gave an example of how blogging communities give students more opportunity to demonstrate their learning than can be done in our normal mode of operation.

I asked the class a question. Immediately, a dozen hands went up, and kids all started pulling the usual faces to catch my attention – in the hope they would be selected to answer it. So I asked the teacher – “what happens to the other 11 kids, how do they feel at the very moment we make our selection”.

We empower one student and de-motive 11, that seems like a stupid thing to do. But thats how classroom questioning works. But in a classroom blogging community – every kid gets to answer it. Not only that, the kids are asking the questions, and teaching each other.

So I really think that teachers need to consider the effects of moving their classrooms online. Sure the parents like the idea that their kids are online-savvy – but they don’t really know what that means or looks like. Its critical to consider the implications to parent confidence when the ‘books’ and ‘worksheets’ suddenly stop being the normal method of evidencing activity. As kids don’t communicate what they are doing on the computer much of the time, there is a real risk that we loose some degree of confidence.

Giving parents the URL, allowing them to see the work in the community and being able to see what the teacher is thinking about, what they are doing reflectively – significantly changes the communication channels and the relationship that parents have with teachers. I think it is a great move away from the passive nature of parent-teacher relations – but equally some teachers are not going to be too happy about being ‘outed’.

Just an observation following a parent comment this week – “I am not sure he is studying as much as he used to”.

Board of Studies looking at computers in exams

Thanks to Annabel for the Tweet. Heres what a recent article in the Age said.

The NSW Board of Studies is exploring the possibility of using computers in public examinations. The general manager of the Office of the Board of Studies, John Bennett, said the board could not afford to ignore the proliferation of technology when planning the future of external exams and anticipates computers will be used for some parts of selected exams within the next five years.

“Today’s students have never known a world without personal computers or the internet,” he said in a recent board publication. “Now we are looking at the possibility of using computers more widely in public examinations.

“Of course, issues such as access to the technology, equity, security and other implications for students and schools need to be thoroughly explored first.”

So if they are thinking about it – perhaps we should too! – As the CSSA trials loom, and a few weeks later the internal trails, then I’m thinking about using some audio tool to ‘mark’ the students papers. As some 3 weeks is lost to these exams, were are realistically looking at less than a month of teaching/coaching. In order to try and maximize the time, were using a Ning as the back bone of their note making and revision – its the best way for me to offer a value-add.

So perhaps in the not too distant future, digital literacy in an examination will be upon us. I hope so. Perhaps we can start using digital-assessment too (oh wait, Ive been doing that).

Certainly nice to hear the BOS making such mutterings – the wind of change perhaps?

3 points of change

This I found interesting from Greg Whitbys YouTube. Talking about changing the system through three pressure points. It made me think that the perception gap between what ‘administrators’ are doing and teachers are ‘doing’ is out of alignment with what I’ve been hearing in Online sessions the last few weeks. I especially like the comments about the strategy to put ‘mentors’ in schools to help develop teachers and support them. This would give a clear indication to the classroom teacher that they are connected to policy directors – often people that we never meet. On the the other hand, I think that there are now so many teachers doing amazing things in their classrooms that their line managers do not know about, so they may be pleasantly suprised when this alignment takes place. I hope that this message and approach is adopted – getting mentors into classrooms to train, support and deliver is a critical link – not just as one off PD, but ongoing support with regualar follow ups.

One of the great strengths of the New Tech Foundation (PBL) is that school teachers in that ‘network’ have IM access to each other, and more importantly to mentors and senior foundation staff.

I don’t think that we are there yet in terms of transparent communication between teacher, mentor and executive – but this video points to the fact that it’s on the agenda, which is great!