Networks of Practice

Last week I attended the fourth day of a year long network meeting called ‘Networks of Practice’. Apart from the growth coaching learning I did earlier (also four days interestingly) and blogged about HERE, this network has been my most powerful learning for the year.  So, what might made it so? I was thinking about the learning conditions that made this network work for me, and how I might replicate them for learners I’m taking on a journey too. Some of the qualities that made it work for me:

  • Extended, but not all at once. Four days is a significant time investment for anyone, but that investment was repaid. I liked the fact that it wasn’t jut four days in a row, that ideas were seeded, allowed to germinate and we’d come back and discuss them later. It felt more authentic to me and we looked forward to getting back to the network to test ideas.
  • Relevant to my needs. Linked to school needs. The network was spot-on one the big-ticket items we’ve been working on at school: staff learning and how to build self-generating learning cultures.
  • Great leadership. The sessions were run by Rob Stones, who was obviously an expert in change and staff development, but there was plenty of room in the conversations for ‘us’ too.
  • ‘Us’ matters. There was the ‘us’ from our school, two of us working closely together all year, and the ‘us’ of the broader group. Not too big either, less than twenty people. Good sharing, collaboration, but also
  • Time to talk among ourselves. Having shaped, expert-facilitated time to develop plans and strategies was so valuable.

And, on the more practical side too, it made me think about how I might best take the notes, ideas, picture and concepts from the program and capture them, using the iPad I bought to each session. In the end it was a mixture of apps and processes that worked for me, and might for you:

  • I used OneNote as the receptacle for all wisdom, the ‘one note to rule them all’, but I might as easily have used Evernote. Text formatting in OneNote on the iPad is currently better than in Evernote and it plays well with Office documents, which we still live on at work.
  • I took photographs using the iPhone or iPad especially snap-shots of the concepts and diagrams that were used extensively. If I had one criticism of the network it was the un-digital approach to the resources. You just had to snap them when you could. I could then drop them into the OneNote page.
  • I used the app Paper and a stylus to draw some of the diagrams.  I find drawing soothing, and it helps me to understand it to draw it sometimes. I’d then export the page as an image and stick it in OneNote.
  • I used the app SimpleMind to create mind maps (see below) I keep going back and forth between SimpleMind and Popplet for this purpose, but SimpleMind has a few more options.

Using these apps and this approach, I could arrive back at the end of the day with my notes fully formed, and just move the OneNote page from the mobile (smaller, streamlined) version into the full desktop equivalent.  Ten hours battery life, and who said that the iPad wasn’t a content-creation machine?

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The Network takes Over

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

Mark Pesce, from the University of Sydney was the opening keynote.

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Connected World

Pesce opened with the idea that ‘this is the moment’, when things aren’t going to be transformed. They already are. Pesce argued that we’ve gone from little or nothing to a radical change in just over fifteen years; about a billion seconds. Eighteen years from the beginning of the web to now.

The biggest change, he argued, was connectivity and the literally unimaginable possibilities that connectivity created. He said it was about ‘knowledge amplification’ and gave Wikipedia as a key example.

He argued that the next key moment after the internet was the smart phone. ‘A fundamental transformation to the construction of human knowledge’. The smart phone and tablet (he reminded us that the iPhone was only five years old in Australia) were desktop computers in the palm of your hand; ‘a huge, growing wealth of human knowledge’ was the world of our students.

It was interesting, for a futurist, that Pesce seemed to assume that he evolution was now complete. ‘I’ve seen the full evolution of the connected computer’.

‘If the classroom lacks the tools for sharing that are available everywhere, then how is it going to survive?’ was something like a key point. He gave the example of the students who invented a social network for their school, because it needed one.
He called the new generation ‘sharing natives’; sharing and collaboration was native to them, and that’s why THIS moment was the greatest challenge in the last 200 years. Knowledge is not not rare, it’s ‘universal’. What does mean for librarians? What does that mean for teachers? What does that mean for schools?

Craptastic World

What does the educator offer now? In two years the now craptastic $79 tablet will be powerful enough, as powerful as today’s smart phones, which means that everyone will have one. Schools will hand them out every year, with the textbooks on them. The digital divide has expired, he argued. It’s available to everyone, everywhere.  A key point is that sharing is not going to be restricted to the wealthy (the $29 Indian tablet) nations.

He talked a bit about ‘flipped classrooms’ and the rise of MOOCs. ‘The classroom is the least natural environment for the new learning. Peer mentoring is now easier for students to access than a classroom or a teacher. Teachers (professional educators) will need to be problem solvers: innovative, creative, capacity amplifiers.

But…

Sharing can be distracting, the ‘weapons of mass distraction’ and it can arrive too early for some students. We know we can’t stand against this ‘tide of change’, but ‘what do we have to surrender, when the network takes over.’

Keep Calm and Find a Peer Mentor

There may not be a class in the future. Or a school? If everything is connected, why centralise it? Pesce argued that the ‘foundation skills’ (reading, writing, numeracy) are an essential preparation for immersion in the culture of shared knowledge. Digital citizenship, time management, etiquette, safety still need ‘an attentive educator to monitor their progress and provide assistance.’

The next question was around, ‘how does assessment work in a world of shared knowledge?’ Pesce said that this question was a furphy; the key point is that ‘assessment is intrinsic to the act of sharing’ Every moment of peer-mentoring is a moment of assessment. Being able to critique, and receive critiques of mentoring, is a new key competency in the middle years of learning. Schools initiate students into the culture of shared learning and establish patterns of behaviour. The role of the professional educator will change, will be mentoring students some of whom will be face to face, some who won’t. It’s not either/or.

The secondary school will be:

  • Connect.
  • Share.
  • Learn.
  • Do.

A never-ending process of continuing education.

Students need to be able to grow their own networks, beyond a learning network for teachers, but a network of peers, mentors, problem-solvers,for life. ‘The classroom, as it is beginning, is the initiation into this network … the path is clear.

Questions I had
Is the internet ‘wisdom’ or even ‘knowledge’
Is it overly optimistic to believe that peers will shape things nicely and positively for learners?

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Padlet

One thing I always look for when talking to teachers about using technolog is something that they can use immediately, without changing their core belief about themselves as educators, or their key role as teacher. I put the arguments around that aside (sage on the stage > guide on the side > meddler in themiddle) and try to look for simple things that teachers can use in their very next lesson that wil have immediate benefit for their students.
So, things like Padlet are great. Padlet (formerly Wallwisher) is a simple web tool that works just as well on iPad as PC, is free, requires no sign-in and allows a group of students to brainstorm or discuss by adding ideas to an online ‘wall’. Simple. I’ve used with my Literature class a few times this year: to document a discussion we’re having in class (one person is assinged as blogger to capture the conversation), for students individually or in groups to put up some discussion points, or for the same thing to be done at home as a homework task. You can run through the ideas one at a time really easily and ask the students to comment on why they made that contribution. And, at the end, you can embed, make a link or make a PDF or image out of the ‘wall’ and put it on your class home page or email it to the students.
With just enough customisation to be fun without being overpowering, this is a really effective simple tool that can get any teacher ‘doing tech’ in five minutes. Some screenshots are below:

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Australian Poetry Library

There I was, at the conference last week, talking about my age old dream for a site that would allow access to a range of contemporary Australian poetry for a micro-payment and lo and behold, I’m told that such a site already exists.

Called the Australian Poetry Library, the site is funded by the Australian Copyright Agency. They say:

The Australian Poetry Library has been developed to promote a greater appreciation and understanding of Australian poetry by providing access to a wide range of poetic texts, many of which are now out of print, as well as to critical and contextual material relating to them, including interviews, photographs and audio/visual recordings. At present the site contains over 42,000 poems, which can be searched via keywords, and which are also indexed according to some selected poetic forms and main themes. It will be progressively developed over the coming years to include work by more poets, as well as more critical and contextual material.

Through keyword searches the site will allow teachers and/or students to select poems relating to a particular subject or theme that students are studying, and to create their own personal anthologies. Teachers and/or students will be able to download and print poems for a small fee, part of which is returned to the poets via the Copyright Agency Limited. Further reproduction, electronic display, email or other communication is not permitted except in reliance on the statutory licence scheme under Part VB of the Copyright Act 1968

Well worth a look, with thousands of poems available.

Ted-Ed and all that

There’s been a bit of bite-back recently around the ‘Ted-Ed’ concept and the usefulness, relevance or otherwise of the whole shooting match of powerful people spouting powerful ideas. Apparently, they censored a Ted Talk that was critical of the inequity at the heart of American society. That idea sure ain’t going anywhere fast. Gary Stager had a field day. He’s hated the Ted Talk thing from day one. Salon described Ted Talks this way

Strip away the hype and you’re left with a reasonably good video podcast with delusions of grandeur. For most of the millions of people who watch TED videos at the office, it’s a middlebrow diversion and a source of factoids to use on your friends. Except TED thinks it’s changing the world, like if “This American Life” suddenly mistook itself for Doctors Without Borders. (here)

Admission 1 – I was always a bit sceptical about the $1000 a seat, or invite only idea that the Ted Talks seemed to be about in the first place. Yes, I too, smiled and nodded in hearty agreement when Sir Ken Robinson told us all how schools were killing creativity, but not a lot of the videos interested me, and the education ones always seemed a bit ‘off’ somehow. Too American maybe? Or too corporate? Or is that the same thing?

So, I hadn’t paid much attention to them really. I like video, and I think that they are a great resource when used carefully and judiciously. I’ve been actively campaigning for YouTube access at my school, first for teachers and, just this week, for senior students too. So far, the sky hasn’t fallen.

Admission 2 – However, I’m very dubious about the Khan Academy kind of approach to learning. **Maybe** the drill and drill kind of repeat and rewind thing might be useful for a skill based kind of subject (a concept in Maths?) but for Literature? I want to show that part from Olivier’s Hamlet where he finds himself in the graveyard as Ophelia is brought there, or the amazing swordfight at the end of Branagh’s version. I want to show it at the right moment in the teaching, that three to ten minute scene, then talk about it. That’s not anything to do with a chalkboard screencast of factorisation repeated until you can say it too.

But (Admission 3) I have become very interested in the concept of the *flipped classroom* and how that might supplement and enhance the classroom work I’m involved in. What if I could deliver that 20 minute overview of the SAC *success criteria* in a podcast or vidcast, and then gets the students to watch that at home? Wouldn’t that leave that 20 minutes or so free for the class to actually talk, collaborate, seek support, get on with things? That’s tempting. And (Admission 4) the tools for creating and delivering some of these enhancements, these ‘flipping’ tools, are so powerful and accessible and first time ever that they’re almost too good not to use. I can add audio to a PowerPoint with Adobe Connect and put it online so my students can watch it, and listen to the audio. I can set up an online meeting (I’ve talked about this before) with Adobe Connect and have a revision session prior to the exams, everyone in their own homes, meeting together. And that’s not to mention Skype, Slideshare, Edmodo, Class Dojo and good ol’ podcasts themselves to support student learning. So many geat tools, so little time.

Which brings me back to Ted-Ed, and their next innovation, allowing teachers to ‘frame’ a Ted Ed video with some questions: questions for understanding, questions for deeper meaning, deeper questions. And, they promise that it will work with YouTube videos too. Which is pretty exciting. A YouTube video taken away from the hideous comments and un-related playlists and brought into a learning context.

I couldn’t get it to work at first, and of course if that YouTube video goes away, so does your lesson. But it’s a much better way of looking at and framing a YouTube video in the classroom, or set for homework like the example below.

Here’s one I put together for Literature homework on Frankenstein. 

Getting started on thinking about ideas in Mary Shelley’s text: http://ed.ted.com/on/Cd3PnwNz

Or this one for the students I’m working with in Pen Club: http://ed.ted.com/on/US1FygmB

I’m still not receiving invites to Ted Talks, and console myself that any club that would have me as a member I don’t want to join. Andrew Douch said recently that he thought audio was more powerful and effective than video anyway, but here’s another tool for learning which, when combined with thoughtful teaching, might make a difference.

Flashcards+

I’m always a little envious of those kids with piles of flip cards. Bundled up in big wads, encircled with rubber bands. ‘This is what I need to know’, they seem to say. Here is the contained knowledge. They sit at their desks and spread them before them, almost smugly.

So, I wanted to have some for my students … Just like they had in Psych. And, who knows, maybe some students actually learn like that? Like the question and answer, the certainty, the ability to review and revise.

Doing *some* research for flash card apps (of course I wasn’t going to go down the ‘paper’ pathway, I found Flashcards+ which works quite well (actually it took me quite a while to work out how the cards could be viewed) and works well with Quizlet, a kind of online community of Flashcard makers. I was very surprised to find several sets already made for Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea, which isn’t’ that widely taught.

Still, I made a set of cards for our literature study of *Wide Sargasso Sea*, mainly terms, concepts, characters, factual stuff, which connected more to the things I wanted the students to know and work on, rather than the standard vocab. style ones already there. You can look it up on Quizlet.

 

Then I told the students about it in class and via the class blog where I could EMBED the cards so you could actually play them from the web site.

And, a couple of the students really liked it. Said it was useful. Said I should do it again.

Ipad or notebook as a classroom tool?

Will the classroom notebook computer go the way of the Dodo! (I know, lame link!)

One of the things I been pondering over likely is whether the iPad can really be a replacement for the notebook computer as the default classroom device. I’ve taught in a one-to-one laptop program for over 15 years now and I that I can’t imagine teaching any other way. And perhaps that’s my problem, that I can’t imagine what a different model might look like. A model without a keyboard.

But when I really think about, how often are my students, even the senior students, writing long pieces in class? Mostly, they are note taking in OneNote and writing their longer pieces at home. And the iPad will handle that just fine.

Yesterday, I joined a colleague to do some writing and I didn’t take my laptop. One, my laptop is clunky, heavy, overheats, has a battery life of about an hour and is just so far removed from being an enjoyable experience that it’s not funny. Secondly, I wanted to see whether I could do some decent writing on the iPad.

So, I packed my iPad, a Bluetooth keyboard and left the laptop at home. I wrote in Evernote, not because that’s a particularly good experience, but I knew it was automatically syncing with a shared folder in dropbox. We were revising a textbook for the new edition so every revision became a new note. I used an app called Popplet to do some simple mind maps and annotate some news photographs. I wasn’t writing anything really long but I hardly missed the laptop, maybe just the full-size keyboard.

Could I write a whole new book on the iPad? I doubt it. And it wouldn’t be a very pleasant experience if I tried. But could the iPad be the device during the day, the lightweight device with 10 hour battery life, instant on and a highly personalised personal productivity tool? I think it could. I never want to be without a “real” computer. It’s not the post-PC age for me. But more and more I’m thinking that the real computer might be a powerful desktop computer at home and the travelling computer an iPad.

I’ve changed a bit in my thinking about this. About a year ago I blogged that I didn’t think the iPad was good enough for senior students. I still think that senior students deserve the best tool possible, it’s just that I’m finding that the iPad is a more powerful tool than I thought

(Dictated to Dragon express, Photo by Warrick, of new iPad case I got for my birthday)

The power of the voice

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
I had one of those, ‘thank goodness that effort wasn’t  totally wasted’, moments a couple of weeks ago when doing some revision work with literature students to do with podcasting.
 
Teaching the poetry of Gwen Harwood earlier this year I was very keen to include as much audio as possible; after all poetry really lives when it’s spoken I feel.
 
So, I organized for each of the poems to have a definitive ‘reading’ by a student who knew the poem well. Hearing the poem is critical so I recorded each student reading in Audacity and saved them out as .mp3s which I put on the class wiki. I also recorded a series of mini-lectures on each poem, about five minutes each just talking through the poem like I would in class. So, each poem had a wiki page with a reading, a mini-lecture and the student contributions and notes.
 
 I didn’t think much about it, although to be truthful I was a bit disappointed that students didn’t see to see the value in the audio. So, in the very last lesson of the year I was pleased and surprised that a student from another class told me that she’d been listening to the audio and that it had been the most powerful thing for her own learning. That made it worthwhile somehow.
 

And justified me buying a new Yeti microphone in the recent Apple sale and putting it under the Christmas tree for a present to myself.
 

So, next year, more audio supplements to the teaching, more attempts to bring these works to life and maybe even a return to some of those rambling Ed-tech style podcasts I did a couple of years ago!
 

Living in the future

Someone sent me this clip below from one of my favourite movies, 2001: A Space Oddysey and thought it looked like they were looking at Ipads (and that movie was made in 1969) I must admit that I don’t remember that scene from the movie, but it did make me think about the tools and technologies we have now, and how what seemed like science-fiction a short while ago, is something I’m holding in my hands right now.

We sure live in interesting times, with some amazing tools. Let’s use them to help students learn.