Thursday, May 29, 2014

1:1 Devices in Schools - A Reflection

creative commons licensed (BY-NC-SA) flickr photo by DennisCallahan: http://flickr.com/photos/denniscallahan/9321465398

My school is currently developing a long term plan in regards to our goals in 21st century learning, as well as investment in devices and infrastructure. Some of the questions of concern that were raised were:
  • what 'packages' do schools offer their students, especially when they are further along the line in regards to BYO.
  • What is the change over time in regards to devices, particularly in schools which dictate the device parents must purchase.
  • Where are devices stored, especially during breaks.
In an effort to gage a wider perspective, I created a Google Form and sent it out to my PLN. It was pleasing to open up the survey and find 35 different responses.


The survey was made up of five multiple choice questions including: 

  1. What year levels do you have 1 to 1 devices and what are they?
  2. How are your devices funded?
  3. What is the time frame on your devices? How long have you banked on them lasting?
  4. Where are the devices stored during break times etc ...
  5. What has been the biggest hurdle with your 1 to 1 program?
My thinking was to make the survey as easy and efficient as possible. Therefore, although +Richard Olsen rightly pointed out that the most important question is why do you use 1:1 in your school, I didn't feel that it quite fitted with the scope of my survey. I was worried that such a question would be evasive and put people off.


Some of the observations that I made about the 1:1 devices in school from the survey is that iPad are more predominant in the early years and largely absent in the senior years. However, I feel that if there was an option for multiple devices that some of the Macbook/netbook schools probably allow students to bring a tablet as well. Another interesting observation was that even though they are no-one's first choice, netbooks are still the most common device in use. I would assume out of economic necessity and belief that the Windows OS is still the most reliable to run in schools. Overall though, what stood out the most was the amount of schools that still lack any sort of 1:1 roll out.



On the flip side though, I did notice a few issues with this section. For example, there is no way of knowing whether each school is primary or secondary. Also, there is no way of knowing what other devices are being used or whether there were multiple devices in use.




Leased926%
BYO Program823%
Part Payment39%
Other1543%



In relation to payment, it would seem that there is a move away from part payments and moving towards either leasing the devices (which can work out to be expensive) or a BYO scenario. I make the assumption that some of the 'others' are probably those schools which do not actually have a program.


3 Years1337%
4 Years1234%
5 Years26%
Other823%











A big point of contention is how long devices are planned to last. It would seem that the most common timeline is three years. However, I think that it probably depends on the type of device. Cared for, netbooks and Macbooks could be argued to have a longer lifetime, particularly in regards to operating systems. One of the issues with iPads that +Corrie Barclay pointed out to me recently was that the operating system often outgrows the devices leaving schools with the dilemma of having to manually update, rather than utilise the range of tools out there which allow you to manage multiple devices. One responder summed up the situation by stating that roll over was in fact chosen by the parents. When they felt that it was time to update their child's device, they did. I would imagine that this is probably where things maybe heading.


Trolley718%
Tubs38%
Lockers1436%
Other1538%










As with the payments question, I would presume that the fifteen 'others' are schools without devices, another fault with the survey. From the other results, it would seem that lockers are the most common place of storage. Here I am left to wonder though whether those 14 represent the secondary schools in the group. This question is a little hamstrung by the fact that there is nothing to discern between primary and secondary, nor was there an option for multiple answers.






I could not help myself but ask what people had found was their biggest hindrance. The 'other' in the pie chart is a bit of a misnomer for if you look at the responses, they often provide a mixture of issues. If you look through all the responses, the same as with the responses to my post 'What Digital Revolution?', the two most common trends seem to be support in regards to planning and professional development, as well as staff actually utilising these devices. Strangely enough though, these two elements seem deeply inter-related.


In the end, I think that the reality is that 1:1 is a complicated topic and maybe such a survey cannot really grasp the full picture. However, it did highlight a few things that surprised me a little, such as the amount of schools without any sort of program. 


Two things that I am left wondering are, what is the place of school community in all of these decisions and where are people going next? +Darrel Branson made the point in Episode 243 of the +Ed Tech Crew about the importance of consulting with the community in regards to decisions and really selling it to them. This is something that is hard to measure on a wide scale and can probably only be done at a local level, for every community is going to be different. While, the second point I am left wondering is where is everyone going? Fine, there was a high percentage of schools that may not have 1:1 now, I am intrigued as to what those schools have in the pipe works and what this survey would produce in five years time. I guess the only answer is that we keep on searching for better solutions based on the learning needs of the local situation, because in today's political climate, I don't think it is going to get any easier.
I would love your thoughts about the issue. Maybe you have recently changed tact or have something to add that you feel I have missed. Feel free to comment below.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Cybersafety - What's the Message?

creative commons licensed (BY-NC) flickr photo by William M Ferriter: http://flickr.com/photos/plugusin/12859355904

A few years ago when I lived in country Victoria I had the privilege of working with my Koori kids alongside the local police to restore old bikes. The purpose of the exercise was to not only show the students that they could achieve something, but also to build relationships between police and the wider population. It therefore made me sad when funding for the program was pulled, to me I thought that it was a priceless experience to have the police involved in a proactive situation, rather than be lumped into the reactive situation that they are endlessly placed in. However, today when a local officer came to speak to the students I was left thinking that maybe not all attempts at proactive interactions with students are helpful. Sometimes, I believe, using a uniform to add creditials actually compromises the message.

Although I agreed with many of the arguments made, such as the point that the person you are online is the person that you are in real life, nothing is ever 100% safe and secure online and for five seconds of fame is it really worth publishing material online that maybe offensive or get us into strife. I really question the 'fear' approach. With a whole lot of stories about baby monitors being hacked, sex offenders with 200+ aliases and a generation of youths who are unemployable due to their cyber footprint.

As much as the threat that the fear approach may convince some to heed and think again, there will be others who will simply big themselves in deeper. Others who will search for other ways. Others who will develop a false facade that doesn't help anyone. See for example Charles Arthur's interview with Jake Davis for the Guardian as a case study of someone who went too far. What then are we doing for those people?

Coupled with fear is an oft outdated approach to technology. Fine I can understand the purpose of using a nickname, not befriending 'strangers' and questioning how much personal data you share online. However, I question the usefulness of suggesting that students should have 'tech free weekends'. For you don't really need to be on social media, it won't kill you, you will survive. In addition to this, students were told that they really must share their passwords with their parents, that it is some sort of right.

Now that maybe true, it maybe a right for parents to dictate the rules that occur underneath their roof. However, here I am reminded of +danah boyd's message in her fantastic book, It's Complicated, that for many teens it is one thing to share their passwords with parents, but it is another to have them logging in and snooping around. "Some teens see privacy as a right, but many more see privacy as a matter of trust. Thus, when their parents choose to snoop or lurk or read their online posts, these teens see it as a signal of distrust." The reality is that friendship and a relationship with a son or daughter is not a right, it is something earnt.

In addition to this, I was left confused by the suggestion that students really need to spend more time with friends in real life. Returning again to Boyd, I think we sadly miss the place of social media in the lives of teens. Out of all the different messages presented in her book, the one that struck me the most was why so many teens flock to the virtual. Boyd explains that this is because in the past where teens may have hung out at the drive-in or the skating rink, many of these spaces have been robbed from them due to fear of the unknown, fear of what might happen.

Fine there is a place for the police to inform students about cybersafety and tips for dealing with it, such as don't respond, block the person, change your privacy settings, collect all evidence and share with someone you can trust. While coupled with this, provide some explanation of the legal consequences to online actions. Is there limit to what should be said? As I have described elsewhere, I believe many educators would benefit from reading Boyd's book for there is a lot being left unsaid in this discussion.

As it was suggested in the presentation that it is not about not getting caught, but about being a better person online. Are we really helping them do that when we continually strip teens of any sense of agency and deny the realities of their lives? What are your experiences with cybersafety? How have you tried to reach out to the students in your care?

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Learning in a Connected World - Moving Towards a Life of Learning

creative commons licensed (BY-NC-SA) flickr photo by courosa: http://flickr.com/photos/courosa/2922421696

So far I have discussed connecting with others both off and online. In addition to this, I explored taking owner of our identity online, as well as elaborating on and engaging with the ideas of others. The fifth step in being a connected educator is learning.

Ideas and inspiration can come from many places and like connections, are not always digital or online. Sometimes learning can be as simple as a chat around the photocopier or walking between classes. I have discussed this elsewhere as the incidental 'hidden' professional learning. The reality is, everything in life can offer a point of learning if we are willing to see it that way. For example, an activity that I have done with my students in the past is to reflect upon their classroom and what it says. I have done this in history when considering artefacts, as well as in music when thinking about performance and space.

I would argue though that the digital realm only extends the potential of this learning. One of the best things about learning online is that you can do it anywhere, any time. Whether it be reading a blog, watching a video, listening to a podcast or participating in an online chat, there are so many opportunities and options that the biggest challenge that we are faced with is what to engage with.

At the recent Teachmeet event at the Immigration Museum+Richard Olsen posed the question about whether there are any negatives about being connected. This has really prayed on my mind. I think there is so much written about the positives, that the flip side is often left silent. One of the initial negatives that I found is having so many different options and ideas out there, it can often leave you in a state of disarray. The challenge then is what we do about this disruption to the way things are. The biggest lesson I have learnt in being a connected educator is that nothing has to be the way that it is, rather we choose for it to be that way.

My solution to this feeling of perpetual confusion is to engage with others online in the effort to identify different perspectives. By engaging I don't mean lambasting those whose views are different, but rather, as +Peter DeWitt puts it, "finding common ground with people I do not always agree with, and building consensus with those that I do." 

In a recent interview with +Ed Tech Crew, +Dan Donahoo provides the suggestion of finding five people that you disagree with and following them. His argument was that we often learn more from those who we oppose, than those that we agree with. In another take on this, +David Truss, refuting the echo chamber argument, states that, "a good PLN will pull in learning from places I don’t normally go, and this means that even when good ideas bounce around, perspectives on those ideas don’t stay static… they don’t echo, and they morph into new insights." 

As I stated in my post on blogging, learning online is about connecting with others in a reciprocal manner, both taking and giving. At its heart, it is about keeping the conversation going. Often though, it is the walls that are often built around us that kill this conversation. 

The easiest way to breakdown walls that so often hold us back, inhibit us and prevent us from reaching our potential is to realise that such 'walls' are merely a construct. Having been built, they can often just as easily be torn down. To me the Rhizomatic Learning MOOC epitomised (or epitomises, depending on how you think of things) everything that is meaningful about being a connected educator both in content and construct. 


Although I connected with some really great people, such as +Simon Ensor, +Keith Hamon, +Luis López-Cano, +maureen maher, +Ronald L and +dave cormier, it was a connection formed around ideas rather than personalities. I made no pretence to assume that I knew many or any of these people. To me though, this is what is so significant about connectivism. Although we may connect with people, a specific identity, to me it is the thoughts and ideas that they may offer that makes them truly meaningful. It may be important to nurture and maintain connections, but it is our capacity to know more that is more critical than what is currently known which stands out the most.


Although online learning, whether it be responding to a tweet or participating in a MOOC, may not necessarily provide the same depth and rigor of a more formalised learning, it does provide an opportunity to connect with others who we otherwise would not normally associate with and develop new knowledge in the process. As +George Siemens pointed out in his seminal piece, "our ability to learn what we need for tomorrow is more important than what we know today." To me, being a connected educator is the first and most important step to a life of learning. For if as David Weinberger puts it that 'the smartest person in the room is the room", my learning is more meaningful when it is not restricted to those people who I work with or know through past experiences.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Sharing Includes Students Too

This post is a follow up to my presentation at the Melbourne Teachmeet held at the Immigration Museum on the 10th of May. The focus was the question, "are you really connecting if you are not giving back?" This was a topic that I had previously written about in a post of the same name. The one difference was the implications for sharing in the classroom.




I don't know how many times I have heard Edmodo referred to as being 'Facebook for education'. Other than the fact that it simply isn't, the biggest problem I have with this is that so often such spaces are set up as a place for one way communication. Where although the teacher has stepped off the physical space, they have merely stepped into a virtual stage.

Now I understand that as the teacher we have a responsibility to manage such spaces. However, should it be any wonder when there is little traction from students when such spaces only allow discussion to be driven from the perspective of the teacher. This assignment is due, complete this quiz, answer that question.  I wonder how much take-up there would be with spaces like Edmodo when the focus is on learning and the topic at hand? 

I have heard so many presentations spruiking the benefits of Facebook for education. Usually such discussions revolve around students creating their own pages where they then gather and discuss information and ideas, including homework. Not only are they collaborating in such situations, but they are driving their own learning. So often Facebook works because students have a stronger sense of agency. When it is taken over by teachers and education, it looses its potential, the sheen rubs off.

In addition to issues with control, my experience of 'social media' of any sort in education (I include the Ultranet in this) often fails to replicate what is happening in the real world. We live in a world of excess where we are given a choice whether to participate, to comment, to view, to consume. Yet how often are students given such choices?

One step towards relinquishing this sense of control is to share with students those resources that we often stumble upon while exploring new opportunities. Although on a different level, +Cameron Paterson recently shared a change at his school where student representatives are included in every subject meeting. That means when there is a professional reading for staff that students complete this as well. If this is the case, why not share those articles and videos with students? Not necessarily because they have to read or watch them, but so that they have a choice.

In his Ted Talk+Ewan McIntosh questions why teachers rather than students do all the problem finding? This really got me thinking about what else that teachers do that students are missing out on. Short of actually committing to McIntosh's 'Design Thinking' edict - we can all dream? - one step towards a focus on sharing and collaboration is actually sharing some of the messy play that often only teachers engage in. That meandering through websites in search of quality resources.

For example, last year I ran an elective looking at 21st Century Learning. Each week I would post links to additional material, such as posts or videos, such as Sugata Mitra's 'Kids Can Teach Themselves' and Ken Robinson's 'How to Escape Education's Death Valley'. This wasn't about flipping the classroom, but rather supplementing the learning. It was amazing how many students actually watched the videos and came back the next week with other videos of their own to share back.

In a post discussing Three Common Myths About Innovation in Education, +Dan Haesler posses the question, "What if innovation in education sought to (genuinely) empower rather than control students?" I would like to think that sharing with students is very much a part of this. How is it that you share with students? What are some of the steps that you have taken to making online spaces safe, but also giving students a sense of choice? Please share, I would love to hear about it.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Getting Smart with eSmart

I recently wrote a post reflecting on the apparent 'failure' of the digital revolution. What came through from both my own reflections and the comments provided by others is that the reason for this supposed failure lies whole-heartedly with leadership. Whether it be at a local school-based level or at a governmental level, there has been a litany of errors. One of issues that often arises with the use of technology in schools are the ramifications for staff and students as their sense of citizenship has evolved to incorporate the digital realm. One organisation set up to allevate such stresses has been the eSmart Schools Program.

The eSmart Schools Program was developed by the Alannah and Madeline Foundation, "a national charity with the belief that all children should have a safe and happy childhood without being subjected to any form of violence." One of its main purposes is dealing with threat of cyberbullying and child safety from the ground up. Unlike the reactive fear campaigns too often perpetrated in schools, the aim of the program is to be proactive. Instead of waiting for their to be a problem, the goal of the program is to develop a clear framework that sets in place a range of practises and policies that hopefully means there are no problems or if there are that they are responded to in an appropriate manner. All in all there are six domains that make up the framework which all work towards the smart, safe and responsible use of technology.



At the end of last term, +Catherine Gatt and I had the privilege of being a part of an eSmart Schools forum. The event was designed to get together a range of different representatives from schools around Melbourne to discuss how the program was going. Basically, the purpose of the session was to get as many different perspectives as possible in order to identify what the next chapter would be.

Growing Pains

Some of the problems that my school has had on our journey to being an eSmart accredited school include:

Ownership

The ideal situation in regards to leadership is to have a flat structure where every teacher and student is responsible. However, too many are still attached to a hierarchical structure where responsibility is carried by those at the top. Whereas the primary classes have had one teacher facilitating the whole program for both staff and students, in the secondary environment, too much is left to too few. Although many of the topics of bullying, digital identity and cyber-safety are often dealt with in Health classes, the message is often missed in other classes where in an already crowded curriculum, various eSmart initiatives are not seen as the highest responsibility.

Scope and Sequence

Associated with a sense of ownership, there is the problem of scope and sequence. Although the core issues around identity are often dealt with in an explicit manner, it is areas such as plagiarism, appropriate researching online and attribution, which are too easily forgotten in the hustle and bustle of everyday teaching. The most obvious example is the use of digital images in the classroom. How often do staff, let alone students, actually consider whether they have the rights to use the images that they do? I must admit that it is only something I have started to consider seriously in the last few years. Basically, it becomes one of those situations where everyone and no one is responsible. Without it explicitly written into the curriculum, such aspects are too easily overlooked.

Administration

Along with a lack of clear leadership, the ongoing accountability and administration is left to too few. Instead of everyone having a sense of responsibility, it is too often seen as the responsibility of the eSmart co-ordinator. I understand that someone needs organise things. However, that does not mean that they need to do everything. The worst thing with this is that such individuals simply can't do everything as they are not privy to everything.

ICT vs. Welfare

One of the underlying issues I have found with the whole program is where it actually sits within the school. Does it belong to welfare? Or is it an ICT thing? Ideally it should belong to both. However, this is easier said than done. The problem that I have seen is that when it is driven from a welfare perspective, some of the more technological aspects are overlooked, and vice versa.

Solutions, Fixes and Becoming Smarter

One the best things about the forum was the opportunity to not only share various hiccups faced along the way, but also to brainstorm various ideas and solutions for making things better. Some of the ideas included:

A Letter from Students to Parents about Issues

Too often letters are sent home from staff addressing issues and problems that arise in regards to technology and digital citizenship. A suggestion presented by another school was to get students to develop such letters. Not only do they then own the situation, but such letters have so much more meaning when they come from students. +Bill Ferriter wrote a really interesting post on creating a student advisory board as a medium for providing feedback from those who matter, I think that students writing letters could definitely fit into this.

eSmart Licence

An idea that one school put in place was a licence for students. Like the pen licence, the eSmart licence was for students who had completed a series of modules created by the school. It represented some recognition that students were as prepared for the digital world as they can be.

A Committee is eSmarter than a Co-ordinator

As David Weinberger suggests, "he smartest person in the room, is the room". The question then is how many people are in the room? If the group in charge of implementing the eSmart program is only three people, how smart can the group be? So many schools spoke about how the program stalled when it was driven by a couple of individuals. The big challenge moving forward is to create a meaningful committee, that includes a wide range of voices (students, teachers, technicians, parents), which meets on a regular basis. Although a group was formed to review the school's policy, once that had been achieved, the group soon dispersed. In addition to this, such a program can go into disarray when any one of those individuals moves onto new surroundings.

The Next Chapter

Overall, the big question that was discussed at the forum was where to next. What was unknown was what happened to schools that had gone through the process and received their accreditation. There is currently nothing in place to support schools in regards to maintaining their level of standard. In addition to this, the program is currently supported by the government and will soon come up for review. The question that was posed to those present was whether schools would be willing to pay an annual subscription for the right to be an eSmart School and what this would actually include, whether it be support or simply a recognition of a standard. 

I hope that there is some sort of solution that will allow the program to continue beyond the five years. For it has provided a great framework to work with. It really makes me wonder though about the answer for ongoing change in schools? You look around education and see so many examples of people offering programs to implement, but too often the system fails to let them follow through with the initial vigour and see it truly blossom. I hope that eSmart can break that mould.

Have you gone through the process to becoming an eSmart Accredited School? What has been your experience? The highs? The lows? What do you see as the challenges being in regards to the next chapter.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Take the Power Back - Steps in Taking Ownership of My Online Identity

creative commons licensed (BY-NC-SA) flickr photo by fredcavazza: http://flickr.com/photos/fredcavazza/278973402

In my previous posts, I spoke about connecting with people both in person and online. The problem that I found with both of these situations is that connections are often only ever as deep or strong we let them be. If we are unwilling to give back, should it be any surprise that people don't always want to share with us? However, what it took me a little bit of time to realise was that 'giving back' was more than just about ideas and information, it was actually giving a part of you. Taking more ownership over my online identify was therefore my fourth marker to becoming a more connected learner.



A Digital Badge

I had known that the only person I was fooling in trying to hide behind some sort of anonymity was myself. The reality was and is that if someone really wanted to piece together 'who' I was, there were enough crumbs left lying around to guide them. There were two aha moments that led to me taking more control over my online identity. The first moment was in watching +Anne Mirtschin's ICTEV12 presentation 'The Networked Teacher'.

Although I had attended the ICTEV12 conference, I had not gone to Anne's presentation. However, after signing up for her presentation for ICTEV13 'The Changing Space Of Learning!' I went back and watched her presentation form 2012. In this presentation, Mirtschin discussed the notion of creating a 'digital badge' online. Not to be confused with the 'open badges' movement, she meant something that we 'wear' online that tells people who we are. For Mirtschin,  this badge includes three key ingredients: a consistent image, clear username and detailed profile. Each of these elements is an integral part of branding who we are online.

Mirtschin explained why having a badge is so important while discussing nings, custom social networks which require permission to join. She stated that moderators will not allow people in if they don't give anything of themselves. However, it occurred to me that the same can be said about all forms of connections. Unless you provide some sort of background, then people don't really know who they are connecting with and are often unwilling to share.

Dispelling the Myth of Digital Dualism

The second aha moment that really made me reconsider my notion of digital identity was the interview with +Alec Couros on the +Ed Tech Crew. Going one step further than Mirtschin's idea of the digital badge, Couros spoke about the power of being connected learner and the importance of fostering a positive digital footprint online. This is particularly pertinent for in today's world if we do not control what is said about us online, then someone else will do it for us.

What was significant about Couros' message was that he disputed the myth of the 'second self'. He argues that instead of seeing our online presence as somehow being separate, we need to address it as being one aspect of who we are. For example, instead of isolating our 'digital identity' in schools, the focus should be on teaching students to be better citizens with their online presence as part of the jigsaw. For the reality is that our online identity is simply a continuation of who we are into the digital realm.

To properly understand what Couros is talking about, he has created a great guide of things to consider when consciously creating a digital identity. In it he goes through a range of tools and questions to ponder upon. Overall, he provides a great starting point for taking back your online identify.

Own Your Identity Before Someone Else Does

The lessons I learnt from both Mirtschin and Couros led me to make a few changes. Firstly a reconsidered my badge as Mirthen would put it, in particular my image and profile. I replaced my QR code with a portrait painted for me by an ex-student. Although it has actually created more confusion in itself, I chose this image because to me it represented how someone else saw me, which in an online environment I thought was significant. For my profile, I replaced the ambiguity with some reference to my areas of teaching, interests and location.

I think that, like Mithen, if I had my time again I would have changed my handle, but sometimes it is more complicated to change. To be honest though, I had been using mrkrndvs for a long time. As I couldn't get an email with my own name, I simply dropped the vowels. That is how I got to 'mrkrndvs'. At the very least, I moved away from hiding behind my initials to at least using my full name. To me that was more important.

In addition to improving my badge, I set out to control the information that was out there about me by signing up to such spaces as LinkedIn and About.Me. If someone was going to know something about me, then it may as well come from me. I also created various profiles, with sites including Gravatar and Disqus, to manage my comments across different formats, as well as to develop a consistent presence.

Taking some sense of ownership over my online presence has not been easy, but has definitely been worth it. I am sure that there is more that I can do and it is an ongoing process, but it has to start somewhere. So who are the people that have influenced your thinking about identify and what are some of the things that you have done to develop a positive presence online?

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Reading, Writing, Responding

creative commons licensed (BY-SA) flickr photo by mrkrndvs: http://flickr.com/photos/113562593@N07/13957080467

The Obligation to Write

In my last post I discussed moving from physical connections to those online. The third marker in my journey to becoming a more connected educator was to begin writing my blog 'Reading Writing Responding'.

A little bit like connecting with Twitter, I started writing a blog as a way of understanding by doing. I had explored some of the facets of blogging in relation to the Ultranet, writing reflections and sharing reviews through my own profile, but had never really been completely immersed in the medium.

My intention for the blog was to focus on responding. As I have discussed elsewhere, I feel that responding is often the forgotten element to reading and comprehension. During my Honours year at University, I read a lot about the interpretive nature of reading. One critic that stood out to me was J. Hillis Miller. A member of the Yale School of Deconstruction, the focus of his work was on the subjective act of reading.

One piece of writing that has always stayed with me was Miller's column as MLA president for the college newsletter, found in his book, Theory Then and Now. He started by suggesting that the "real reading, when it occurs, is characterised primarily by joy, the joy of reading". Associated with this, he discussed the joy associated with modelling the joyous reading in the classroom. However, it is what he said about writing that has stuck with me ever since.

Miller argued that we have an obligation to write. He suggested that reading and teaching are completed by writing, that it is a core element to our transaction with language. As he stated:
As we read we compose, without thinking about it, a kind of running commentary or marginal jotting that adds more words to the words on the page. There is always already writing as the accompaniment to reading.
To me, Miller's writing refers to an action where we make meaning out of the text, where we gain a subjective mastery over what it is we are reading. This may not always be a physical act and often doesn't even reach the page. The challenge as I see it is to follow through with these commentaries. That is why blogging is so powerful.

Why Blog?


I have had a go at addressing the question of why blog before, providing such reasons as critical engagement, lifelong learning and scratching an itch. Looking back upon things now though, I really just thought my blog would be a place to reflect and review texts, to follow up on some of the notes scribbled in the margin you could say. I had little intention of openly reflecting upon my practises in the classroom or discussing education in general. However, as I read different pieces, diverging from my usual diet of history and fiction, it quickly became so much more.


What I found is that once I started writing, my blog soon took on a life of its own. I soon discovered myself investigating various pedagogical practises, musing on different ideas and untangling various threads of thought. As I have discussed elsewhere in reference to Twitter, I feel that the bigger question isn't what to blog about, rather it is why blog at all. Here I am reminded of the adage attributed to Marshall McLuhan that 'We shape our tools and then our tools shape us.' Once you decide to blog I think that your mindset changes, instead becoming a question of what not to blog about.

One of the interesting things that I have found about blogging is who is the audience. So often we discuss writing from the perspective of purpose and audience, yet so often blogging is approached from the perspective of the idea, responding to what needs to be written, rather than who might be reading it. Sometimes I think that this ignorance of the audience in my writing to the detriment of the reader. However, being the writer I guess I shale never know.



If there was to be any overarching purpose, I would like to think that the it is to simply continue the conversation. Keeping ideas to ourselves, we never really get the opportunity to refine our thoughts. By putting them out there, it not only allows for a deeper engagement into the ideas of others, but it also allows others to then elaborate themselves and provide their own perspective.


A prime example of this is engagement is my post 'What Digital Revolution?' In it I pondered upon the supposed failure of the digital revolution. If you look through the comments there are a wide view of perspectives given, such as: +Simon Crook on Digital Education Revolution funding; +Alan Thwaites on the ever changing field of technology; +Bill Ferriter on doing old things with new tools; +Corey Aylen on the hidden place of technology in the classroom; and +Nick Jackson on the role of technology to empower students. These discussions, in the comments rather than the margins, are what is at the heart of blogging. It provides a platform for people to not only share, but also to engage in further conversation.


So what are you doing to continue the conversation?

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Making Connections ... Online

Google+ photo by DeAnn DeVille

In a previous post 'Connections Start with People' I explored my first step on the journey to becoming a more connected educator, which involved physically connecting with other teachers outside of my usual circles - stepping away from the familiar and embracing the uncanny. The second marker to becoming more a more connected was making these connections online, in particular, through Twitter.

I'm not sure what actually led me to joining Twitter. Maybe my work at ATC21C? A desire to learn something new? A different audience? Frustrations with other social media platforms, such as Facebook? All those years of attending the ICTEV conferences and feeling that I was missing out on the real conversation. Whatever it was, sometime in September of 2011 I signed up.

Initially my focus with Twitter was in understanding it as a medium of communication compared with a blog or a wiki. At the time I had started teaching Multimedia and this included exploring different facets of digital literacies. I was therefore intrigued about such mediums as tweets and blogs and what they meant for traditional notions of literacy. Ironically, I had little interest in the beginning with actually 'connecting' with anyone. In hindsight this almost seems farcical, but like so many others, I lurked.

In addition to this, I have always been interested in finding new means for responding. This led me to the idea of restricting responses to 140 characters. I had always used different activities as a part of my teaching that involved students making decisions on key words or ideas and then justifying these choices. I therefore thought tweets could be an extension of this, an interesting and creative way of responding to texts. Something epitomized by the book Twitterature.

One of the differences that I found early on between platforms like Facebook and Google+, where you can build walls around content, was that Twitter as a platform is designed to be open. Although you can lock down your profile and tweets on Twitter, it seems to defeat the purpose. +Steve Wheeler sums this up best in a video about blogs, suggesting that, "having a private blog is like going to a party with a paper bag over your head." Really, Twitter is an application that revolves around sharing, without other people's content there is nothing.

I initially started out on Twitter not so much hiding behind a wall, but hiding behind an identity. Although I had been using 'mrkrndvs' elsewhere for years (my name without vowels in case you were wondering), my initial moniker was an acronym based around my initials - 'MAD'. Associated with this, my profile picture was a QR Code which simply went to my Twitter handle, while my profile was a quote from Michel Foucault stating: "Do not ask who I am and do not ask me to remain the same: leave it to our bureaucrats and our police to see that our papers are in order. At least spare us their morality when we write." For me, I wanted to be known for my ideas, not who I was or wasn't.

It is interesting to read about how different people start out. Often people cite the desire to connect with supposed celebrities. However, for me it was about following interesting educational thinkers in regards to media and technology, such as the handles associated with such individuals and organisations as Danah Boyd and Wired magazine. A little bit like the Pringles jingle though that 'once you pop you just can't stop'. I found that once you follow one, you start finding others to add. In regards to my presence, I simply posted the odd quote, made the random observation, posed some questions, but didn't really do much.

What is strange in looking back is that even though I had no real intention to get involved, to answer questions, get involved in chats, I still somehow thought that people would participate, that they might retweet something I wrote, respond to a quote I posted or answer a question. During those formative months I simply stumbled around, finding my voice and unintentionally developing my online identity.

A significant shift occurred when I actually got a response to a question that I posed in regards to Google Apps for Education. As I have described elsewhere, I had introduced Google Drive into my school. However, I was interested in the difference between Google Drive and Google Apps with an eye to introducing GAFE into the school. +Tony Richards responded by not only explaining the differences, but also providing me a range of resources.

What is even more significant than my ongoing connection with Tony since then is that I have shared the advice and details that he shared with me with several other people. Often they were in the same situation as me, unknown and putting the call out, waiting and hoping for someone to respond. 

To me, this is what being connected is all about. Joining with others, sharing ideas and gaining a wider perspective on the world (although never a complete perspective). Basically, just being a part of a wider village. However, sometimes it takes one person to help you understand that to really be a part of a village you need to give back.

So how are you sharing? What are you doing to give back to your community and who are the significant individuals that have helped you out along the way? I would love to know.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Connections Start with People

creative commons licensed (BY) flickr photo by antaldaniel: http://flickr.com/photos/antaldaniel/2912118873

In an ongoing conversation about the challenges with being a connected educator, +Alan Thwaites posted the following comment:
Although these were some very nice words, it sometimes misses the full story. Being a connected educator is not something that happens overnight, it is not a case of joining this site or posting that comment. Being connected is much more complicated than that, it is better understood as a journey with everyone a different point on a continuum.

Short of some sort of autobiographical recount reminiscing every event and connection that I have made, I thought that it might be more meaningful to list the five 'markers' that have led to me being a more connected educator. These are not necessarily distinct periods of time and some spread across weeks, if not months, but they are the significant events that have made me who I am today. The first of these step relates to connecting with people.

Connections Start with People

I have read so many examples where teachers before getting students writing blogs begin by getting them to write paper blogs. (See for example +Pernille Ripp's 'Paper Blogs: A Lesson in Commenting on Student Blogs' and +Bianca Hewes' 'Paper Based Blogging with Year 7'). Students then publish them in the room in order to share and continue the conversation. I think that in the same way the mindset and actions associated with being connected starts long before people get 'online'.

Through my involvement with +Alf Galea and the Melton Network 21st Century Learning Team, I had the opportunity to connect with some amazing people. Formed as a part of the Ultranet project, the network was a place to share and collaborate with other teachers in the area who were grappling with the same sort of problems.

Through this group, we were invited to be a part of ATC21S project running put of the University of Melbourne. Needless to say, this was a fantastic experience and involved working with a range of teachers from around Victoria. However, through this project there was one teacher that stuck out in particular, that was +Jenny Ashby.

I must be honest, I was slightly intimidated at first. I am reminded here of a comment from +Cameron Paterson on Episode 17 of the +TER Podcast to find a mentor that scares you. I think that what Paterson is saying here is that in order to drive you forward that you to find someone who challenges and pushes you. Jenny whether meaning to or not definitely did this.

My colleague and I would leave the sessions reflecting on all the different ideas that we had picked up and so often they came via Jenny. The educational environment in which she existed was so different. As a starting point, her school (although a little smaller than my own) had already had a significant investment in ICT. Far above anything that I could imagine, well at least far above anything that I had experienced. In addition to this, she was confident, a little brash and eager to get into things.

No matter what was discussed, Jenny would always have an idea and was willing to share it. I think that by the last of the planning sessions at University of Melbourne, I had actually adjusted to her frenetic style and was beginning to really thrive on the chats wherever they would go.

Although I could have described numerous examples of connections that I have formed as a teacher and a learner, I would argue that my connection with Jenny stands out because it was one of the first connections that I made that was outside of my usual surroundings and hasn't it changed me.

What is an incidental connection that you have formed and how has it changed you?