X-School in Newcastle?

Patterns and routines follow education as surely high tide follows low. A hundred years of mass education, sounded out by the bell of inevitability. The pattern and routines are rarely broken, but reinforced with each passing day.

Smart-kids know how to game the system. I recently spoke to a young woman, now doing a PhD, who said she went to a North Shore Sydney private school. She struggled to break the top 10 student list in grades, due to fierce competition. Rather than pay the fees and risk not getting into the Uni subject she wanted, her parents rented a flat for her in Western Sydney. She went to what she called a “band 3 school” instead. She aced every class, the teachers welcomed their ‘band 6 girl’ and lavished attention on her as she romped to first place in every class and the rest is history.

Smart-students know how to play the system. The patterns of study are repeated with marginal change, year in year out. Content get’s updated, but the mechanic stays almost the same. Those teachers who manage to break this cycle do it by creating new patterns of learning that defeat these mechanics. So why force them to find exploits, and just imagine for a moment that someone handed over some loot, and with that we created a learning center, were teachers were mentors,experts on learning design for the gamer generation.

Let’s call it X-School to be trendy. Why is no one brave enough to hand over the swag to make it happen? It makes perfect sense.

Answer: Because that would break the rules. We might have to ditch some current ideas, such as “ICT Integrators”, who are yet to find the right potion for the 21st Century. The rule is, thy shalt have but one ICT Manager and an Integrator and forsake all other options. We are so reluctant to even change job descriptions, we are hardly likely to open X-School in Newcastle. But I think we should. Part of the funding comes of course, from it being a model school and in that offering professional development to other schools. It’s a model that has worked elsewhere, so why not in Australia, why not Newcastle?

The plain fact that no one’s willing to try or fund it. Yet it’s within every systems grasp. Yes it might look strange, but strange isn’t a reason to pretend it’s not possible.

Take an office space, make it a learning space, teach half a dozen teachers in the ways of virtual goodness and allow them to create learning episodes that resonate with students for whom ‘regular’ school doesn’t work.

At the same time, open this is a hub to mentor teachers where they creating new learning episodes to re-connect students with the idea that they are good at life. It stands a good chance of breaking the cycle that will, without doubt, perpetuate another decade of anecdotal Power Points telling us about how technology will change lives if only we adopted Web2.0.

The total cost, is probably less that will be wasted on trying to secure an old building from vandals and following up kids who wag school.

Its high time social development replaced professional development and virtual teachers became as accessible as school counselors and geography teachers, so that students and teachers in classrooms everywhere have access to the same projects, specifically designed to do two things.

  1.  To address the real concerns teachers have ranging from low concern (I don’t care about technology), to high concern (my innovation ideas are ignored) and
  2.  Engage students for whom school does not and will not work as it is now – in ways that makes them feel good about themselves.

This might not be for all students, or for all parents. It might not appeal to all teachers either. However, if we want real reasons to use technology to build a learning community and so some serious social good, this is one easy way to do it.

It is not beyond the realms of immediate reason to connect schools and teachers to a centre like this, or to allow students and parents to choose an alternative. It might be for an hour a week, it might be for the kids who are suspended from school or kids who are scared to go to school … but without the will to make an attempt to build a space that extends into virtual space, we’re likely to keep putting lipstick on a pig.

I suggest giving me the money. I’m even happy to call it the CISCO-Pearson-Dick Smith School of blah, if that brings in new ideas.

There are some great old buildings in Newcastle, just begging to be occupied. Why not open one as a virtual school? Create some project ideas with the local community and start to engage kids.

Connect it to regular schools everywhere and get on with connecting a physical building a virtual, project based school that reconnects kids. They’ll still do the tests, still follow the syllabus, no one needs to panic, it’s not de-schooling, it’s re-schooling. Not distance education, immersive learning.

I think I post one of these virtual school posts every year. Maybe next year, it will be a different story. I’d enroll my kid day one. He’s playing tank.


Crayons, physics, wipeboards and fun

A colleague showed me this today. It’s called CrayonPhysics, and you can download the demo for nix or spend a measly $20 on a great game, that is going to motivate and engage pre-schoolers upwards. There are endless eCreative applications for it, but one we thought would be really great was to combine this appliction with an IWB and Scribblar. We’ve been working with a Biology lecturer who wanted to combine her internal class with externals. In the past she has had to come up with 2 different types of learning activity, so wanted to find a way to find one. As most of the work revolves around formulas and maths – the IWB was rolled in to replace the wipeboard. We’ve then hooked up Scribbar live, and Bob’s your uncle, external students and internal ones can work at the same time live using voice and vision. We then record the entire thing that the project beams out and stick it on the burbclave so people can re-watch it.

CrayonPhysics would work in the same way! – So while we are using the set up for high-end stuff, there’s no reason not to try this with primary school IWB or EyeBeam between schools and classes. It’s a game! so play will be a great kicker to get kids motivated. They could design their own challenge levels and more … but you get the idea right. $20 and you’re into game-based-learning with maths and physics across the metaverse.

Too tight to buy a game – or still thinking games are not for you – have a look at physicSketch an adaptation …

Games, connecting to others, solid theory and fun … happy-class activities on a total shoe string … if you don’t have and IWB, then there’s the iPhone/iTouch app, Wacom tablet or Wiimote option too. Can’t wait to try this one out with the kids …

Here are a list of virtual boards we looked at, and some short descriptions, leeched from the marketing blurb.

1. Twiddla

http://www.twiddla.com/Twiddla is a web-based meeting playgroundMark up websites, graphics, and photos, or start brainstorming on a blank canvas. Browse the web with your friends or make that conference call more productive than ever. No plug-ins, downloads, or firewall voodoo – it’s all here, ready to go when you are. Browser-agnostic, user-friendly.

2. skrbl (online IWB)

http://www.skrbl.com/Simple and easy online multi user whiteboard, start skrbl, give out your URL & start working together. Sketch, text, share files, upload pictures all in one common shared space. There are no new tools to learn, nothing to download, nothing to install. Brainstorm on our simple whiteboard to start thinking together, everyone sees the same screen, everybody gets on the same page.Also team skrbl http://www.skrbl.com/aboutteamskrbl.html

skrbl now

3. Scriblink (Browser Based IWB)

http://www.scriblink.com/ Scriblink is a free digital whiteboard that users can share online in real-time. Sorta like pen and paper, minus the dead trees, plastic, and the inconvenience of being at the same place at the same time.

4. Groupboard – simple java whiteboard

Groupboard is a set of multi-user java applets including whiteboard, chat, message board, games and voice conferencing which you can place on your web page by simply copying a few lines of HTML code. You can also run Groupboard on your own web server. It can be used for tutoring, distance learning, training, or simply for fun! With the whiteboard you can upload background images and draw on top of them, and all of the users connected to the board will see the changes in real-time. Free for 5 users.

5. Dabbleboard (Browser Based IWB

http://www.dabbleboard.com/ Dabbleboard is a powerful digital whiteboard that’s actually easy and fun to use. With a revolutionary new interface, Dabbleboard gets out of your way and just lets you draw. Draw with flexible tools. Reuse previously-made drawings. Share and collaborate in real-time. All as naturally as using a marker or a pencil.

6. Virtual WhiteBoard

http://www.virtual-whiteboard.co.uk/home.asp Virtual WhiteBoard is a web-based collaborative system that provides a realtime canvas for thinking, designing, and working with your colleagues, clients, friends or family. It is free for anyone to use | web 2.0

7. FREE Virtual Classroom!

http://www.wiziq.com/Virtual_Classroom.aspx Now teachers and students anywhere in the world, can connect and meet live in the Virtual Classroom for an online interactive class. The collaborative web conferencing environment enables you to communicate synchronously using video and audio or through text chat, and to share presentations, documents and images on an interactive whiteboard. Join us now, to conduct your online live class and experience the next best alternative to classroom teaching.


http://www.imaginationcubed.com/index.php A free white board that you can easily invite people to collaborate with. With a plethora of features and no membership required. Great for small businesses, not for profits and just people that want to share ideas.

9. Scribblar

http://www.scribblar.com/ Simple, effective online collaboration. Multi-user whiteboard, live audio, image collaboration, text-chat and more

Online School of Opportunity (OSO)

Why write on the walls, when you can write everywhere?

Mashable posted  “Why Teens Don’t Tweet”, giving a range of data and view on the demographics of a social network growing at +1300% a month. It made me wonder about how effective we are at competing for the attention of students, teachers and educational leaders. Are we too busy pressing the ‘Digg’ button and missing the opportunities presented?

“Twitter’s different than Facebook or MySpace because Twitter is not about your friends … Teens, more than any other age group, care about their friends. It’s the continuation of real-life friendship (and the creation of online ones) that has driven the tremendous growth of MySpace, Facebook, Bebo etc”.

To use these spaces, today’s teens spend increasing amounts of time informally online. They are using informal learning. As formal public education provides almost no spaces for this it is no surprise that teens power down between 9 and 3.30, disconnected from their informal learning networks. And it isn’t a teen sensation; social games and online networks are actively marketed to pre-schoolers. The numbers participating in pre-school social game Webkinz alone dwarfs teen blogging.

McGivney (1999) a decade ago recognised the importance of informal learning pathways.

Informal learning generated by local people themselves often led to wider community involvement and activism, whereas learning arranged by education providers most often led to high rates of educational progression. Informal learning often started people on a continuing learning path by helping them become confident and successful learners. “

Space, time and organisation are cardinal elements of formal learning – which is the inverse of the online educational commons. Informality enables us to be successful learners in playful and social ways that we can take to new situations. Increasingly games and social networks provide this function. It is common to see two teachers talking about education online; but rare to see departmental CEO or Minister add to any authentic open discussion. They have attained their authority by abiding by the rules of formality; where as online authority is now earned through action in informal networks.

Teens use  mobile phones, Bebo, Facebook and MySpace – to successfully strengthen friend networks. What they don’t know how to do is apply it to the discipline needed in obtain life affecting qualifications. There is a clear role for teachers to do this, and students readily work with these teachers – who are not necessarily technocrats – but are adoptive leaders and good communicators. They talk with, not at – which is another characteristic of policy making bureacrats and politicians. You can’t co-opt your way to social change on your terms anymore. Get over it; move on. Stop building walled gardens and ignoring what is there already.

The problem with internalising everything and agreeing with yourself, is that it sustains nothing except yourself.

Seriously – why do we spend millions developing ‘closed’ applications using tax-payer money on things like a blog engine ‘pilot’, when the world is using Edublog Campus? The criteria is less than transparent and hardly going to give any real indication of pedagogical reform; if indeed there is going to be any public release of the findings. Per teacher; what is the investment?

The blog trial involves 20 teachers, each from a different school or TAFE Institute from across the State. Trial participants were selected though a variety of means but all are users of collaborative tools and are keen to use blogs for teaching and learning.

The Centre for Learning Innovation’s website (The public education tech-development arm) says “Connected learning projects allow students to engage with real-life situations, which involve communication, collaboration, self-directed learning, problem solving, researching and publishing findings.” it prompt you to download  a 1997 document which then explains what the internet is, why use it in the classroom and gives an illustration of how to use a website (Netscape 2). The link is dead, and obviously ancient history – yet is on the ‘new’ website.

Do you learn more by skimming last night Tweets than you did at your last technology ‘in-service’?

We don’t need to be at specific time or place to learn – just access the educational network commons that now exists online. We are seeing an effusion of activity in forming and joining new networks that is changing education philopshy, not technology itself. The tragedy is that teachers are often unable to benefit students from this action. It is locked stepped by political orientation to conventional, schematic discernment of the 21st Century itself.

We should be better utilising existing resources such as libraries and teachers, and investigating an ‘Online School of Opportunity (OSO) and not limiting students through long-familiar toothsome approaches to quality improvement (aka “School of Excellence” ). We need centres of opportunity before excellence can be afforded to all –  though investment in public Libraries and community spaces that encourage both teachers and students to get together and transform the way they use technology; not block it.

Ref: McGivney (1999). “Informal Learning in the Community: A Trigger for Change and Development.”  National Institute for Adult Continuing Education, UK.

School Without Walls #3

READING the National Curriculum document due for implementation in 2011, and the various consultation documents, the language is not surprisingly very consensual. It remains incredibly conservative, making all the right motherhood statements you might expect. As I wade through it, highlight pen in hand, I’m trying to clearly identify ‘new’ ideas and ‘new’ approaches to actually solving and implementing 21st Century Pedagogy in curricula. Perhaps the most significant exclusion, ‘the Arts’, music, art, drama etc., still not being represented.

Laptops appear 2009, National Curriculum, 2011. This leaves just 11 months for stage 5 and 6 to get to grips with both. Are schools ready for either? Under investment, insular thinking, top down hierarchy and political agendas have left teachers with it all do to, in a frighteningly short timeframe. Within 5 years, students will be entering higher education and the workplace with a very different experience of technology in learning. The impacts are seismic.

The National Curriculum’s long consultation period seems misaligned with the un-predicted (though welcome) investment in public education. It is an exciting time; a short step from renewal and opportunity, or short drop to the abyss of confusion, poor implementation and frustration.

I am not sure that ‘training and resources’ approach to PD will work. ‘Taking the model to the masses’ is in no way ‘fun’ for those doing it. Its very hard work dealing with entrenched ideology, bad policy and unimaginative networks day in day out. Schools need strategy, planning, frameworks and lots of experienced support, based on ideas that work. Schools are still lock-stepped and locked down – and into this we hope to co-opt the brightest and most performing. Brave New World or Bladerunner? The National Curriculum is not addressing these issues, and public debate (or interest) is overshadowed by the GFC, Ruddy Laptops and e-Nation Building.

NSW is going to spend $16million over 4 years on the ‘Authority’ (thats the name they have given themselves) which according to the Education Minister Verity Firth is “a great show of faith in the state’s education system”. Perhaps the first cohort of ‘school without walls’ should be teachers in 2010 … and the first cohort of students, 2011 – That doesn’t seem too much of leap of faith.

School Without Walls #2

ViewMore FromTagsCommentsSaveShareSend

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.


picture-72Meetsee is a 2.5D virtual office built on Adobe Flash platform (so maybe it won’t be banned). It is a pretty simple idea.

I set up my panel discussion room, and have been fiddling with using a pair of web-cam screens and using ‘live’ audio broadcasting to the room. It takes minutes to set up. One neat feature is that you can upload a presentation to it. People in the room don’t have to just use the 2.5D view – they can click the presentation and see the slides in 2D, and they can do that with the webcam too.

Build and customise an office, then invite people to visit you and have a meeting. It has a 2.5D view with chat, webcam, Twitter feed, file sharing, Polls, RSS feeds, virtual wipe board and a clever video feeder from YouTube. Of course you can fiddle with your avatar (though one niggle, I hit the girl button by mistake and can’t switch it). You can upload a photo of your own head, which is cool too.

Meetsee also has a 2D chat and videoconference mode, so in may ways operates just like a simple Elluminate, Wimba Live Classroom or Flash Meeting. I really liked the way you can load up YouTube in your entertainment centre, or select a Twitter feed too –

It is also really simple to move around by just clicking on objects, or clicking chairs, filing cabinets and TVs to interact with them. Meetsee is highly functional, looks great and will appeal to kids and adults alike.

picture-81As the owner of the room, you can of course move the furniture around and choose the interactive items that you need and well as change the décor. Meetsee has a good ‘owner’ interface that lets you track activity in your room and it also lets you download that as a report, so in a classroom setting, it has an audit trail. The applications for its use could be from simple interaction and communication to live blogging. You could use the poll function to give a quick test – and use YouTube to give them the context for that test. Students could upload files or download them from your cabinet.

MeetSee has a flash based webcam feature, so you can broadcast on one of the interactive screens. You could use it in competency tasks for ‘interacting with clients’ or as a role-play. Meetsee could be used in school, or perhaps as distance or out of school tutor groups.

There are a range of ‘settings’, the corner office, the video conference, panel discussion etc., and at the click of a button you can launch a different setting. I think that there is sufficient 2.5D ‘engagement’ to make it fun to use – but backed up with some great features that are really simple to use.

Metaplace – Virtual Word to Go!

Metaplace is not out yet, but is in private beta, so it won’t be too long. It is a very interesting idea which has grabbed millions of dollars of investment. Watch the YouTube video for a visual explanation of the technology. What is allows us or students to do is to create a world in which all the programming is done for you, all you need to do is choose what you want to pull into it.

Students for example, could create a world in which they pull in webpage content as part of an assignment. They could then invite other students. They could discuss content or add content. The virtual world itself simply pulls in ‘media’. It is another great example of how exisiting content and read/write feeds are mashing with 3D environments. Rather than creating new places, this kind of technology is bringing social network media into three dimentional representations. It is not the fact that these are ‘virtual worlds’ – more that the distance between 2D content browsing, and 3D immersive experiences are merging.

The advent of printing, really changed the way we learned. Before that, learning was not text and image based, nor did it start of page one. We learned in 3D spaces in which language, sound, movement and multiple inputs formed the whole. Almost all of what we did to commit learning to some sort of retained storage media was, and still is, 2D. Gaming is now almost entirely 3D – But by that I mean it’s still 2D, but simulates ‘first person’ with sound and images being artificially manufactured to give the impression of immersion in a 3D space. As the cost of creating and delivering this, using tools like Metaplace, are reduced – effectively to almost zero, then the human, who is by nature built to learn in 3D space – is more able to do so. This to me is one of the reasons to at least be aware of how virtual worlds are/can/might be used in education. It is evevitable that the 2D nature of ‘the internet’ will continue to move towards 3D experiences – based on social interaction. Right now the internet is busy ‘linking people’ – the future is moving towareds linking shared experience.

Audio for example. Sharing the performance with friends is a different experience to listening alone. Why do we go to see performances? Because we want to ‘see’ not just hear, and we want to share that experience with people we know – or who we think are like us. To me it seems natural that this is what we are seeing happen. The question is – how does this affect student learning in the next five years. Will we still be asking students to represent their learning and creativity – in 2D ways.

Webkinz in Year 1 Class


This is from my  wife’s work with her year one class. This is using a Webkinz that she bought off eBay. Here’s her reflection and explanation of using plush toys and virtual worlds.

Introducing ‘Buster’.

Buster is the 23rd member of 1G and is the most popular class member. He is the link between real word and virtual worlds for the Year 1 class.

When Buster first arrived, he was kindly introduced to the students as a homeless pet that had been rescued from the pound. He was in dire need of a home and 1G had been selected by the council to look after him. Then the fascination, social networking, mathematical and language skills began to develop.

 Each day a student is selected to take Buster home for the night. If the student has internet access, they are given the code and tend to his needs on line. They are allowed to feed, play and care for Buster. This develops the student’s awareness of needs and wants and links with social studies units.

 Students are invited to chat with other ‘furry friends’ in the carefully moderated online chat rooms. The students also need to write in Busters journal to bring to school the following day to share. This reinforces the need for literacy in terms of reading and writing. Students without online access are given 20 minutes at the start of the day to tend to Buster’s online needs.

Students have signed an agreement with their parents to follow WebKinz and 1G WebKinz rules. This enables the student’s access to the site but they are unable to spend KinzCash. A budget is calculated weekly. Game prizes of KinzCash are calculated and graphed in maths lessons and decisions about how to spend the money are made. The students collaborate and debate on what the money should be spent on and one group of students each week is given the time to make these changes.

Students are encouraged to use part of their computer time each week to compete in online creative competitions as well as construct new knowledge through the problem solving challenges.

The student’s number skills are becoming well developed as they have an authentic need to learn about money and computation skills. The notion of budgeting is often foreign to a Year 1 student but is very important to the members of 1G. The more money we can save, the more we can buy.

 The ability of the students to debate and negotiate has developed. They are critical in their debate as to what the class should spend money on and are getting very good at justifying their reasons for their choices.  These improved language skills are reflected across all key learning areas.

The use of this online learning simulation is an authentic, hands on, motivating and student directed learning opportunity. The skills learned area used in context whilst developing fundamental care, mathematical, problem solving and language skills. ‘Buster’ has been an effective tool and reflects the ability of web based resources to enhance learning opportunities even in early childhood.