Ed-Tech in the age of Facebook


I’ve never had a Facebook account and I’m pleased about that.

I’m certainly not anti-tech. I was an early advocate for the internet, started blogging pretty much as soon as it was possible, built web-sites, built digital resources, helped establish online communities and took up tools like OneNote, with gusto. In fact, the raison d’être of this blog has been about the effective implementation of technology in learning.

But, I’ve had some second and third thoughts recently about the rise and rise of big-tech, in terms of the social manipulation we’ve seen bear fruit in data mining and election manipulation, not to mention the more personal but just as devastating bullying and manipulation that I see occurring daily on a micro-level between students.

And, I’ve seen more flaws in the glass than I would have expected and, moving from a school environment where technology flows like water, to a more typical, and more challenged, technology environment where I’ve been forced to reflect on what that looks and feels like for most teachers and students most of the time. Things don’t always work and teachers are swamped by workloads and increasing levels of accountability, risk-management and administrative tasks. I’m not surprised some stop trying.

And there’s some problems with the model too. We are an iPad school for the Years 7–9 students and BYOD after that. Most students ditch their iPad and bring a MacBook Air or a PC after that. A significant minority write in exercise books with pens.

I’ve blogged before about iPads in learning and the tension between having the Cambridge, Oxford or Pearson text book on the iPad, turning it into a glorified textbook, and the students needing to write in exercise books with pens. Split screen doesn’t work for this. I don’t think that it would be any better with a Chromebook. So, there’s always been something awkward about the device/s for subjects where the textbook is paramount.

In my subject, Literature, where students normally have a hard copy of a novel or play, the device works better, and I’ve had success in the past, and this year, in getting students to see the value of OneNote, which is pleasing.

However, the revelations about Facebook’s use of private data concerns me, as does the same for the Google suite of tools. A while ago I argued strongly for a move to an educational version of Gmail for our school; I’m not sure I’d make that case now. If you’re using Google Apps for free (or Facebook for free), the model is that your data is monetised, you are the product, as Tim Cook pointed out again recently. I wouldn’t have predicted, five years ago, that I’d be arguing for Apple or Microsoft (which looked tired and corporate) ahead of the ubiquitous Google.

Similarly, I’ve resisted calls to ban and block phones and devices to stop cyber-bullying. Bullying is bullying I argued, focus on the behaviour, not the mode. But, there’s no doubt that putting sophisticated communication tools, and social media accounts, in the hands of thirteen year olds is a recipe for enabling bullying and exclusion way beyond the playground at lunchtime.

There is not much push for Facebook in learning (thankfully) but our school uses its Facebook account to communicate with parents much more energetically than our own intranet, and groups of students, including my own class, set up their own learning networks on Facebook. What does that model? And who benefits from the students, and the school community locked into a Facebook model of news and communication? Not only are big-tech corporates poor at monitoring and protecting data and privacy, in many cases their entire business model is based on the reverse; selling that data to advertisers and beyond.

It’s a challenge for our times, the #deletefacebook hashtag has resonance in schools too, and what we exemplify and model. I had thought that the days of RSS and building our own web sites was behind us. Maybe not. Certainly, the old English Expression skills of critical thinking and high levels of literacy, are more important than ever.

One thing is clear. While we may have thought of hopefully, in the beginning of the Internet, that this was liberating, connecting and democratising, has turned, as big-tech companies have become bigger than government, un-elected and un-accountable, into something divisive and anti-democratic. What do we do about that?

I don’t want to even talk about PISA

PISA results were released this week. The media has enjoyed it a lot.

I have some strong reservations about the validity of the testing, the meaningfulness of national comparisons and the subsequent media league tables, teacher-blaming and contrived anguish in the Murdoch press that inevitably follows: ‘Our kids dumber than ten years ago.’. Yes, I think this really helpful to all concerned.

I could put up a list of links pointing to articles that talk about this stuff, but look it up.

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The New Rules

Officially on holidays from today and heading off travelling in Vietnam for a couple of weeks, which will be nice. A final sweep of the Google Reader this morning revealed Will Richardson’s latest piece on The New Rules. 

Like a lot of Will’s stuff it resonated with me and I thought I’d post his rules for your consideration. In an increasingly toxic and non-productive political culture in Australia too (though we haven’t seen the school budget cuts much yet) it seems we can’t rely on politicians or billionaires who don’t listen (see Bill Gates’s Twitter stats). It seems that if anyone is going to lead the future of education it’s got to be teachers and teacher leadership. Again!

Anyway, I’m hoping that it will all look a bit more hopeful from a distance. In the meantime, here’s the new rules:

Here are the new rules:

Create your own education.
Find problems and solve them.
Be unique.
Make beautiful, useful stuff.
Build a network of really smart people who you will never meet.
Be indispensable.
Do real work that changes the world.
Have a brand.
Share widely and safely.
Add value.
Be a voracious learner.
Tread softly but boldly.
Edit the world.

Don’t scare the children!

Alongside the box of ‘things schools should be teaching’, a new box of things schools should steer clear from: in this case, teaching about climate change. Apparently, kids run the risk of being terrified by the ‘doomsday’ scenarios that the government is providing in its kitbag of resources for schools.

 News.com.au reports:

 Australian National University’s Centre for the Public Awareness of Science director Dr Sue Stocklmayer said climate change had been portrayed as “Doomsday scenarios with no way out”.

Dr Stocklmayer said she was not a climate-change sceptic but worried that “too much time was spent presenting scary scenarios, especially to young people”.

“(Children) feel incredibly despondent and helpless in the face of all this negative information,” she said. “To put all of this before our children … is one of the most appalling things we can do to (them).

Not, that there’s not more than a whiff of politics in all this stuff from the Murdoch press, who are all over the climate change stuff, but it does seem a bit rich to drag out some psychologists to get everyone all heated up about what those leftie teachers are up to now. I actually don’t see any sense of there being any research at all into this; probably more a phone conversation along these lines:

Murdoch reporter to Psychologist: Do you think some kids could become anxious given all this talk about climate change?

Psychologist: Could be.

Murdoch reporter: Thanks a lot. (Aside: ‘Hold the front page’)

Note: The conversation above is purely imaginary based on the (lack of) evidence provided.  Unlike the Murdoch press I haven’t hacked into anyone’s voicemail accounts. You can read more about that …

And, if you really wanted to alarm kids,  you might show them the state of the parliamentary debate on all this.

NAPLAN knows…

I started off all indignant when I ripped Miranda Devine’s latest piece of folksy wisdom out of the Herald-Sun on Thursday but in the end you just have to laugh at the dross that comes out of the conservative media’s best and brightest day after day as if someone is paying them to do it!

Devine’s latest take on the NAPLAN tests is as fine a piece of persuasive writing as you’ll find, resonating with power. Here’s a bit from the opening:

It is accountability time.

After failing the 20 per cent of children who leave school functionally illiterate, we finally see the truth.

Which students have sat through two years of boring lessons without learning to read and write? NAPLAN knows.

Which teachers are adding little value year on year to the students in their classroom? NAPLAN knows.

Which schools are failing to improve their students’ test results? NAPLAN knows.

NAPLAN knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men. Just like the shadow did! How do they think of this stuff. Has Devine been channeling 1930s pulp fiction? You be the judge!



It’s been a big week, chock-full of NAPLAN testing, among other things. Three mornings of more paper-shuffling than you can poke a 2B pencil at.

And is it worth the effort? Mine, my team or the students? I doubt it. I’ve blogged about NAPLAN before: about teaching to the test, the new lows of league tables, and the fact that other places like England  have begun to reject the national testing agendas we’ve turned into an industry.

And, there’s plenty of arguments against going down the NY schools pathway that Julia Guillard has latched on to with such enthusiasm.  This SMH article described how testing has actually failed NY schools, or this City Journal article, Can NY clean up the testing mess? that describes Campbell’s law:

“The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.”

Or, as this National Times article put it:

The big question is why Australia would want to emulate a country like the US where academic performance standards are, on average, much lower and where educational opportunity for many children depends on the luck of a lottery draw.

Even Kevin Donnelly has changed his mind about this stuff, as he writes here in The Drum: and says, among other things:

• Testing has failed to raise standards in England or New York and is now seen as counter-productive. Diane Ravitch’s most recent book, The death and life of the great American school system, details the flaws with NY’s model of standardised testing and high-risk accountability.

According to the US national test (NAEP), NY’s results have flatlined. In the UK, notwithstanding national tests and league tables, standards have also failed to improve and the Rose Report, evaluating primary school curriculum in the UK, argues against an over-emphasis on one-off basic skills tests.

• The curriculum has been narrowed and the focus is on basic skills instead of higher order thinking. Subjects like music, art, physical education and history fall by the wayside as teachers and schools focus on drilling for literacy and numeracy tests.

• Schools and teachers are adopting suspicious ways to get better results – poor students are excluded from tests, weak students are told to stay at home, teachers cheat by helping students in the classroom.

• US and Australian test experts agree that standardised tests like NAPLAN are unreliable, invalid and cannot be trusted (it’s lies, damn lies and statistics).

I’ll leave the last word to some of the kids who sat the test this week. Yes, I know that re-tweeting is easy, but so is pretending you’re actually doing something about learning by giving every student who happens to be the same age in Australia exactly the same test.

Weird Science

Today the Victorian Government announced that it had shelved a $28 million dollar project to invent a “pleasant tasting, attention-sustaining, low-priced drink that enables secondary students to work safely and with sustained alertness all day” because it failed the common-sense test. And yes, I’m pretty sure that Coca-Cola might have already invented it. There’s more about that here

That educational initiative came just a day or so after the Federal Minister for Education announced, and repeated, that to raise the standards of students entering teaching degrees, future applicants would have to be in the top 30% of the country in terms of literacy and numeracy based on, wait for it, their Year 9 NAPLAN results!

That was hurriedly withdrawn, but I did have to agree with the AGE letter writer this morning, who said:

IT IS my fear that our government, in continuing to leap on the standards-based reform bandwagon , will be moving to a superficial and restrictive system to assess what cannot be assessed (‘‘ Students facing tougher entry to teaching degrees’’ , The Saturday Age, 16/4).

That this homogenised, reductive approach is being touted by our School Education Minister, whose past as an artist and activist would be as difficult to assess via standardised means as the life of a teacher, is shocking.

Throughout my teacher-training course and my six years as a teacher, I have been rigorously assessed. I, like all other teachers, have needed to prove myself during classroom observation, performance reviews and interviews. I have produced portfolios of work and documented contributions to curriculum and syllabus development.

Most importantly, I have received feedback from students and their families. Do I know the content? Yes. I have the academic transcripts and the classroom responses of my students. Does that make me a good teacher? No.

What is of greater importance is the ability to work with students, parents, colleagues and the community to offer diverse educational experiences . While these experiences may not fit neatly into a table of quantitatively derived data, there is no better measure of the ability to teach.

Madeleine Coulombe, Balwyn North

Meanwhile, somebody actually has been doing some real thinking about the quality of teaching, a Grattan Institute report just released tries to address issues of teacher quality and improvement. That report is HERE

What’s phones got to do with it?

Okay, I admit I teach in a pretty privileged environment where I don’t face the threat of violence from students on an everyday basis. That some teachers do face threats and intimidation in the classroom and that they can still go and make a difference to their students is an enormous credit to them.

So, I can understand how it makes good sense, especially in political terms, for a new Minister to be rolling out the ‘law and order’ argument, as happened this week from new Victorian Education Minister, Martin Dixon, as reported in the little paper.

And, studies do show that an ‘orderly’ classroom, a classroom without violence, for example, is one of the key pre-determinants for learning to occur (Hattie).

BUT, what’s with the mobile phone connection? Why is this article headlined with a peaceful looking student engaged in a phone conversation? And, doesn’t it really imply that, along with knives, bad language and ‘sloppy dress’ the mobile phone is a weapon of disorder and unruliness?

So, instead of looking to the potential in the enormous number of young people coming into our schools with a powerful mini-computer in their pockets, we see it instead as a distraction, a negative, even some kind of weapon.  At the same time as educational commentators bemoan the ‘digital divide’, disengagement in schools, and the need for 21st Century skills, our political betters are trotting out ‘back to basics’ truisms backed up by a compliant media.

We haven’t even scratched the surface of the potential for the mobile phone as a tool for learning in our schools. But, maybe one of the reasons we haven’t is because that really would be a possible shake-up to the ‘order’ of things in schools.

[Screenshot captured in my newest Chrome extension: Awesome Screenshot]

Bipartisan Education Policies (they’re both bad!)

When I posted the above quote from the AGE as a  tweet above this morning it was because Mungo MacCallum’s piece in the AGE this morning, ‘Pandering to Prejudice’, struck a chord with me as to just how narrow the election debate has been, both in terms of the issues raised and the constituents it’s appealing to and how exasperating I’ve found it.

MacCallum’s piece begins:

What the punters of Rooty Hill want, they’ll get – no matter how irrational.

There are times when it appears that this election campaign is no more than a contest to win the hearts and minds of a handful of drunks in the front bar of a pub in the western suburbs of Sydney.

Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott acknowledged as much last night by locating their simultaneous community forums not in the town hall of a major city but in the RSL club of a suburb 42 kilometres west of Sydney’s CBD, Rooty Hill. The name, incidentally, dates to 1802 and refers to the roots of trees, not the other kind.

But whatever the proclivities of its residents, they are considered by the pollsters, spin-doctors, sociologists, astrologers and other necromancers who staff the campaign headquarters of the major parties to be the ultimate swingers – the ones whose votes on August 21 will determine who governs not only Rooty Hill, but the entire continent.

The town is conveniently centred on the electorates of Lindsay, Macquarie, and Greenway (marginal Labor) and Hughes (marginal Liberal) and is also believed to have a psychological and psephological affinity with other Labor marginals such as Robertson and Dobell on the NSW mid-north coast.

Assuming even a small proportion of these voters were listening last night, Gillard and Abbott had a lot to win or lose on their performances. Which makes it all the more perplexing that both leaders have spent most of the past 12 months treating them like mugs.

It is certainly true that the westies, as they are known with a combination of affection and derision to the commentariat, are not exactly political philosophers in the Platonic tradition. They are, in contemporary terms, the battlers – some very successful ones and some still striving to catch up, but driven more by self-interest than idealism.

They tend to get most of their news and views from the tabloidDaily Telegraph and the shock-jocks of commercial radio, neither of which are obsessively committed to intellectual diversity. But this does not mean that they should all be categorised as a sub-class of urban rednecks, incapable of rational thought.

Their battling includes a great desire for education, if not for themselves then certainly for their children. This is particularly so for the migrant communities in the west. It is easy to characterise some of the suburbs as ghettos, but the word implies a level of poverty that is simply not there. The Lebanese, Vietnamese and Chinese communities in the west are thriving and the second generation is rapidly integrating with the mainstream. But they are, or at least some are, protective of their new home ground, and this is where the less scrupulous politicians have scented an opening. John Howard’s notorious slogan, “We will decide who comes into this country and the circumstances in which they come”, resonated, not because it made sense, but because it confirmed the legitimacy of some immigrants over that of others.

This morning, Radio National did run two pieces on education, a piece on the ‘evolution of the education revolution‘ and a debate between Crean and Pyne on educational policy. Not a lot of depth, but interesting about the computers in schools program, broadband plans, performance based pay and my least favourite, the offensive ‘fast-tracking’ of teachers.  You can download the audio yourself from the links above.

Teach for Australia (revisited)

I’m not commenting (I already have) I’m just pointing to this from the AUSTRALIAN today.

PROFESSIONALS wanting a mid-career change of lifestyle will be encouraged to become teachers under a plan to ease their entry into classrooms.

Under the plan, professionals could be teaching in classrooms after just eight weeks of specialised training.

Announcing the policy at her Aldelaide alma mater, Unley High, the Prime Minister said the government would cover up to 50 per cent of course fees and provide up to $10,000 in income support to facilitate accelerated entry into the classroom.

The policy, called Teach Next, builds on a raft of education announcements by Labor during the election campaign, including more autonomy for school principals and cash bonuses for the top 10 per cent of teachers.

Ms Gillard said the $10,000 in income support would help professionals considering teaching to enter the profession.
“This is about bringing people into teaching from all walks of life,” Ms Gillard said.

“We know we are short of maths teachers, we’re short of science teachers, we know that our teaching workforce is ageing.”

Ms Gillard said the policy would add to the workforce new people who wanted to enter teaching.
“Maybe after a lifetime in a profession, they want to bring those skills into teaching”.