A deluge of possibilities

When you come back from some time away, particularly when you’re wandering around beautiful landscapes like I was, you do get out of the pace and rhythm of a school. So, it’s been a bit of a jolt coming back and getting used to timetables, bells, hundreds of daily interactions and the pace of the day.

And, one thing that has particularly struck me, in an area I’m very keen about, is technology. Schools seem to be at the center of a perfect storm of change, particularly in terms of ed-tech.

At my own workplace, for example, we’re grappling with the virtues of OneDrive and Google Apps for Education and probably going to opt for some of both. The OneNote notebook creator (see video below) looks like a great leap forward to this product that is so powerful, but so tricky for setup at times. We’ve been a school that uses Outlook and Office, so the collaborative features of OneDrive will be welcomed, but the sites and the survey tools in Google are excellent.

At the same we’re weighing up options for an LMS that might supplement or replace our current wikis, with teachers looking at things like Blackboard, Schoology, Edmodo and others. It’s an arms race of features out there. I’ve been using Schoology with my own teaching, and I think it’s terrific, but what about a reporting tool? And how’s the mobile app look?

Finally, we’re talking a lot about ebooks and replacing / supplementing the paper text books with e-book versions. Do we go with a single vendor, try to accommodate a range of vendors and portals or look for an aggregator? And how do we transition our teachers and parents to that model?

Lots to think about. Sometimes I think back to the simplicity of a day’s walking in Skye last term, but it sure is an exciting time to be a teacher. I’m pretty sure that OneNote will be part of my teaching next  year. Here’s that video:

The future is blended


I’ve been putting the finishing touches on a presentation I’m giving at two Oxford Conferences soon. The title of the presentation is The Future is Blended, and the descriptor for my session is:

In this workshop the focus will be on blended learning and approaches that extend and enhance the classroom experience. The latest research tells us what we have always felt: that good teaching is critical to student learning and that feedback to students is also critical. New technologies provide teachers with powerful tools to organise, collaborate and give feedback and to re-envision the classroom for the twenty-first-century learner. In this workshop participants will get a snapshot of the latest learning theory and get to play with some digital tools in a range of platforms that that can have immediate application in any classroom. The future is not digital, but it is blended.

The Education Changes Lives Conference is focused on Australian Curriculum but my session is more about technology and blending traditional approaches with new ideas. Last year I presented in the English teachers stream; this year it’s for general teaching audience.

The Melbourne conference is on May 16th

The Sydney Conference is on May 30th

Hope to see you there.

Creating Learning Centred Learning Environments

This post was written at the Idea13 #idea13 Conference, MCG, 12/11/2013

Alison Miller from Vanguard Visions talked about learner centered environments with a particular focus on eportfolio approaches to showcasing learning, a refreshing change from the hard data of the first two presentations.

I liked her description of portfolios as ‘a personal control tower for the learner; personal online spaces, with digital objects to manage evidence of their own learning including to present, reflect, plan, collaborate and share their learning.’

Maybe for transition, recognition, assessment, career development …

Alison’s slideshare presentation is embedded here.

Monitoring Learner Progress

This post was written at the #idea13 Conference – MCG – 12/11/2013

George Araya, from the Desert Sands Unified Schools District in California, talked about supporting student progress with assessment data, but he started by talking about culture. He talked about changing culture by changing tools (for teachers) in this order:

  • first they were given email
  • then to an online gradebook
  • thenk smart slates (linked to electronic whiteboards)
  • then (clicker type) responders
  • then online testing and online assessment

He was very big on standardisation, of moving teachers from basic tools to more advanced tools. Students have Chromebooks and the District had developed a ‘private cloud’. They developed a learning platform focused on measurement and assessment, and gives teachers instant feedback, mostly with teachers preparing assessments and students responding (using clickers called ‘Renaissance Responders’) and getting immediate feedback which is published for parents. Tests are easy to do, efficient, and weekly. Yes. Weekly. The principle is constant assessment and instant, live data.

He talked about using ‘intelligent forms’ to observe teacher performance, and some arguments he had with unions about this. I bet.

He also argued for Chromebooks (they’d just ordered 7000, standardised and cloud based for the whole district) He said that they could run 15000 Chromebooks with one person. It seemed that the Chromebooks stayed in the classroom and students logged into it when they came into the classroom and logged out when they left.

He concluded with a big table of test scores and the great improvements in the test scores.

I was a bit critical. Thinking something like ‘typical American over-testing’ fuelled by by my respect for educators like Will Richardson (https://twitter.com/willrich45) who have pointed out the great divide between what American school systems say (we want great education like Finland) and what they do (test, test, test..) I even tweeted:



They had the tweets on the big screen, and all around the room the twitter stream with the conference hastag #idea13 kept rolling on through. When mine popped up, I saw George looking up at the screen for a long time, reading it, and I felt bad. I mean, he had come all the way from California to tell us about what they were doing, how they were changing culture and raising test scores and I was sceptical and a bit dismissive. And me, from a well resourced school with 99% of students achieving at or above national or state literacy and numeracy benchmarks, and him from a district with huge issues of poverty and second language. Maybe testing was the right thing for them. It sounded like a deadening experience for teachers and students (and he admitted issues with some teacher unions) but maybe I shouldn’t have been so smug and quick to judge.


So, what have I learned?

I’ve certainly been in a number of sessions over the last three days, many of which I’ve blogged about here, but what have I learned?

It’s been refreshing to immerse myself again in the IB world and its vast labyrinthe infrastructure which only becomes (frighteningly) apparent at times like these. It’s been good to catch up with some familiar colleagues, spend some intensive time with a colleague from my own school and meet some interesting new people. I’ve had an invitation to a primary school in Bangalore, seen a new and interesting looking anti-LMS called ‘teamie’ and have had the new iPad Shakespeare app demo’d for me by a super-keen Cambridge University Press man. I’ve taken the subway to Chinatown (*like every other system in the world the ticketing system is better than Melbournes) gone to the top of the tallest (twin) towers in the world and enjoyed performances from a range of talented students who’ve been featured every morning.
And that’s without mentioning any of the sessions at all, including some great keynotes and a session on leadership lessons from Shakespeare’s Henry V that was entertaining and moving and had some good lessons from the leader’s experience of the ‘dark night’. (Interestingly, the sessions I took notes with the stylus using Penultimate haven’t really featured in the blog; I have to type them up again afresh and that seems an effort at the moment.)
I’ve been to some great workshops and some infuriating ones, have put my hand up to contribute only to be ignored for the keener student with the straighter hand at the front (oh yeah, that’s how that feels), have listened to some teachers and leaders who talk about themselves and their school but never their students and seen others who have made it their life work to change the world one conversation at a time.
Taking up my pet topic of technology I’ve been heartened to see more conversations that ‘get it’, and less that talk about how kids ‘only play games and muck-around with computers’ and only a few outright annoying ‘Google is making us all stupid (except me)’ presentations, warm, nostalgic and comforting to much of the audience as they are, like a nice cup of Ovaltime in your pyjamas in front of the fire.
There are problems with the IB; it’s huge Gormenghastian indifference, the transitional moments, the elitism, the dotpointing and the bureaucracy it serves, creates and fosters.  But, at the heart of it, there’s also some compelling learning that’s possible within the structure, and some passionate people working in it.
I fly home tomorrow, with only four days of the term left until Easter, and then back up this way to Vietnam for a holiday. I’ve been there before and was entranced. I hope to have some new learning there too.
Above and below: some images from a short time in Kuala Lumpur. Photos: Warrick. Below: Green view from the 22nd Floor
Below: Dr Paula Barrett talking about the importance of preventative work in mental health.
Below: Cooling down in Chinatown.
Below: View from the Two Towers
Below: Conference essentials.

Online learning: it’s not Plan B any more

The premise of this panel worried me; that online learning has been characterised as what you do when classrooms aren’t possible (bird-flu!) Really? Okay, let’s be tolerant. It turned out to be an interesting session, if a little narrow definition of online, and I’d like a bit more about blended approaches. EG> Why are we talking off-line and online if they are mutually exclusive.
It was interesting to hear about student and parent anxiety and asking questions like ‘if you could take this course face to face would you prefer that?’ (mostly, yes) and ‘Did you learn something about yourself at yourself as a learner’. (mostly, yes)  Here’s what the panelist said:
Matt Harris –  Head of Learning Resources, German European School, Singapore
Synchronous and asynchronous learning (German and Dutch offered to replace self-taught learning) using video conferencing primarily. What we’ve learned: pedagogy matters.
Edward Lawless – Principal – Pamoja Education
James McDonald – Head of School, Yokohama International School
Giving students access to subjects they can’t offer internally, but the world is changing.
Glenn Odlund – Head of School, Canadian International School, Singapore
Challenging the notion that online courses are for a ‘certain kind of kid’. Thinking of making it mandatory for students to take up 1 course online and hoping that students will engage in an online experience that  was so powerful it would leverage the more conventional bricks and mortars classes. They decided to offer one subject, ‘Economics’ as an online course only (and they had a good teacher on campus) They expected ‘push-back’ from parents and maybe teachers, but some has come from students. He describes the advantage of online: time and distance but also described the fact that MYP students had been circulating a petition asking that the Economics course be taught conventionally.
Denise Perrault – Head of Online Learning Devp, IB
Denise talked about ‘why bother’ and the four stages of online learning – substitution, augmentation, modification, redefinition. What is the desired outcome? she asked.
Dennis Stanworth – Head of Academics, Yokohama International School
Dennis made some provocative statements; ‘are schools that don’t offer online courses going to be swept away by those that do?’, should an online subject be compulsory for all students?
Photo: Apple for the teacher, virtual apples? Photo: Warrick

Face to face or online learning? The case for blended learning?

ABSTRACT: What is the picture of a student’s intellectual future? How is online learning transforming learners and the ways in which learner’s learn? There is no turning back, to the pre-internet world of learning and inquiry. Our minds are changing as we interact with the tools of learning, and as the structure of our brain changes, so do our thoughts and experiences.  What do we stand to lose by constant connectivity, instant and unlimited information? For a talent lost or diminished there will be another one that is gained. As educators continue to nurture student’s minds, they need to tread carefully and perhaps adopt the evolving ‘ Blended learning’ model of education, the combination of traditional bricks and mortar and online delivery. This presentation will cover the impact of the Internet and its tools on learners, the different approaches and models of Blended learning, how the IB is leaning towards a blended learning environment and practical insights into what makes it work

This session opened with a disturbing metaphor: ‘the internet the invading our world’.  It didn’t improve much when we then went into the ‘what is the internet doing to our brains’ and then showed a whole lot of pictures of young people texting. However, she twisted the narrative by then showing a picture of the conference from the day before; a whole lot of educators on their ipads and computers (and iPads are everywhere here)

Unfortunately, it was then back to neuroscientists and ‘What the internet is doing to our brains’ and the Nicholas Carr book, ‘The Shallows’. Our brains are changing apparently, being constantly rewired and neural pathways and synapses are working all the time. We used to call this ‘learning’ by the way.

This presentation argued that there is no turning back, but then went back to what we might lose by constant connectivity. So far, so negative. It was nice to see some of the participants questioning back: ‘how is this different from the way the brain is rewired when you learn French?’ Yuzzah. You go you. The session threatened to get feisty when one man said that the way he had to deal with 150 emails a day and didn’t read the same anymore, and that was because of this (gesturing at the screen with the word ‘internet’) And there was a bit of back and forth. Nice to see.

But then it was back to us losing the skills of ‘concentration, contemplation and reflection’. And (no irony at all) an argument that we should go back to the blackboard. I’m not joking.

We eventually got on to ‘blended learning’  – ‘a formal education program in which a student learns at least in part through online delivery of content and instruction with some element of student control over time, place, pace etc.’ For schools, surely this is the future I think; the mix of ‘brick and mortar’ and online learning model. She argued for a ‘self-blend’ model for IB where students take an online course in their regular school schedule and students work with a site based coordinator.

Blended learning provides a nice convergence of online and face to face. She gave some good tips including the importance of the dedicated site coordinator, sharing student weekly progress using Google Docs, setting up collaborative student teams, making tutorial or help sessions available, student counselling in and out of the program, limit of one subject per student, the importance of educating parents and students, providing hard copy text books and doing regular surveys of student opinions and interests.

On the other hand this was pretty much the only session I’d seen so far where the presenter demonstrated good design skills with some good images, and very little text. And she handled what I would probably have regarded as challenges, really well.

Below, a key diagram from the presentation, which argued for the self-blend model.


Well, I spoke at the futureEducation Conference this week, which was pretty interesting, and enjoyable too. The conference describes itself this way:

The symposium is an excellent opportunity to hear from leading international specialists about high quality education resources and their outcomes. This conference is feature packed and focusses on the pedagogical, economic and strategic value of Australian education and how it will shape the future of Australia as a highly skilled, globalised knowledge economy.

I think I was pretty much the only one from a school perspective so I was keen to strike a balance between the ‘big-picture’ needs, aspirations and work of teachers as a collective as well as the daily life of the digital resourcing in schools. Which was a challenge.

Anyway, it went quickly, the panel session was interesting afterwards and comments on the twitter stream were generally favourable (thankfully). Below, I’ve embedded my slides, which probably don’t make a lot of sense without the talk itself, which I don’t think was recorded. The ‘abstract’ of my talk was:

While schools and publishers are coming to grips with a changed paradigm and new possibilities for everything from libraries to textbooks, teachers are working with their students in the classrooms to create quality learning resources together.

I basically argued that teachers influence educational resourcing by ignoring offerings, by collaborating on what they find so that good resources ‘tweet their way to the top’ and by making their own resources, through a rang of (mostly) web tools. I was keen to emphasise the idea of the ‘classroom community’ or the Will Richardson idea that ‘networks are the new classrooms’.

Then, it was back to school to sit in on the planner meeting making sure the rooms for the parent-teacher-student conferences next year don’t clash and that reports can be uploaded in time. Such it is for anyone who works in schools.


I was invited recently to speak at a forthcoming publisher’s conference: futurEducation on a teacher’s perspective on the kinds of textbooks, resources and future needs students and teachers are going to have. In fifteen minutes. In two weeks.
Quite a tall order, and one that seems even more complex given some of the big picture ideas that the conference talks about unpacking such as:

What is the future of Australian education? What kind of high-quality educational resources will be required to underpin the Gonski reforms? As the mining boom winds down what needs to be invested in education for Australia to be at the forefront of the global knowledge economy? In a digitized world what economic and strategic value should we place on the production of high-quality education resources? How should we value teachers and pedagogical practice in Australia? How are these issues being addressed overseas — in Finland, South Korea and the Czech Republic?

Yes, quite. So, I spent most of today thinking about that, putting some slides together and thinking how I might respond. Even put out a call to help to Twitter (without any results) So much to say, but how do you frame all that. I’ll put the text of the talk up here some time afterwards, maybe the slides too.
Anyway, by 4pm I was pretty much fried and needed to clear my head with a good winter beach walk, complete with scudding clouds, clumps of dark rain and ruffled water and bright moments of sunshine, made briefer by the dark clouds already building up in the background. Perfect. I walked one of my favourite routes: along the beach in the wind, then turning up into the estuary, following the little creek inland in a big loop and home.

First look at Apple’s new take on textbooks

I’ve embedded the Apple announcement on text books below. I’ve already heard some negative reactions in the twittiverse arguing that this is another examples of Apple’s ‘walled garden’ approach, and that locking schools and districts into Apple systems entirely is not a good move. It seems there’s other questions too about whether these textbooks will be available on other platforms (unlikely) or available in other formats (very unlikely).

Nevertheless, I’m quite excited about it, particularly from a writer’s perspective. Could I write my textbook and have it on the Apple bookstore without the intermediary of the publisher? Like musicians do now?  Could we break down the systems and empower good teachers and good teacher/authors and share their expertise more widely? And I’m definitely going to download the publication software.

But I have reservations, and they are more around the idea of the textbook in the first place. Maybe the textbook thing is bigger in the United States than here, or maybe because I’m an English teacher there isn’t generally the reliance on a textbook beyond the set novels and plays.

The video says they are going to change ‘one of the cornerstones of education: the textbook’. But is the textbook really that critical? How does this change learning? Or teaching? And, will replacing the traditional textbook with a ‘bells and whistles’ version change the classroom experience? Where are the collaborative tools, the feedback, the personalisation, the differentiation, the user-created textbook that we’ve talked about for some time.

There’s no doubt it will look pretty, it will save a lot of printing and heavy schoolbags for kids with iPads (oh yeah, how many is that right now?), they can be updated easily and they will be more engaging.  But every time I hear ‘engagement’ as an argument for new software and hardware I cringe a little. There’s got to be better reasons than that. We shall see!