Archive for the ‘Web 2.0’ Category

Are raspberry pi(es) good for you?

I am often asked about what technologies and devices will be like in the near future. Given the innovation, the rate of change,  and the exponential power of new technologies, not to mention the cost, this question is understandable. Up unto the last two to three  years it was all about “picking the winner” in an ever increasing market of devices and operating systems. Remember the VHS versus Beta race and the cost of getting it wrong. More recently the PC versus Mac was fought out almost like a religious war each side with its own zealots eager to purchase the next big thing and thus strive for market dominance. All this at exponential cost to the market in the relentless search for the most sophisticated device.

The rise of open source and the invention of the App has certainly reshaped the technologies world. The focus has shifted from the device to the software The devices are quickly becoming agnostic as programming has become what I call  “democratised” as users develop their own Apps to make the devices do what they want them to do, not what the original programmers necessarily intended them to do. We have thus seen a shift from the device controlling the learning to the learner controlling the device,. The device is now just an idea, they invite the user to be creative, inventive, and innovative. They become a powerful personalised tool at service not in control of the user.

What we do know about the future for technology is that quantum computing with be more powerful, faster cheaper and provide more storage. Wireless will become more ubiquitous and pervasive. Devices will be smaller more embedded in and on our person and into the built environment. Skills once considered essential to living in a modern society like driving a car, organising you personal life or for employment will be replaced by new skill requirements.

I don’t know what the next must have device will be but I wish I did because the profits in getting it right are enormous. The way I like to think about this is that the future will see the emergence of a post device era. This is the age of the algorithm where the high priests will not be the privileged few who understand the sacred mysteries and mathematical intricacies but the kids who understand that programming is a core skill.

This has huge implications for schools.  What value is being placed on teaching programming?  If computer literacy was about knowing how they worked, computer programming is about doing the work.  We’re already seeing a shift especially in the UK and US to train more teachers to code software and in doing so encourage young people to develop these critical skills.  This movement has been boosted by access to cost-effective computers like Raspberry Pi, designed to encourage kids to program.

Bill Liao co-founder of CoderDojo explained coding as a language skill -”You need to be a native speaker and for that you have to start young. We start kids at seven.”  He believes coding should be a “creative experience – the best coders are like poets, able to express their thoughts thoughts powerfully.”

Is this the new literacy for schools?

 

A different level of insight

Following on from last week’s blog post on big data, I had the great pleasure of meeting researcher and educator George Siemens recently.  George is the Associate Director, Technology Enhanced Knowledge Research Institute at Athabasca University in Canada.  He was also one of the first people ever to facilitate the use of MOOCs.

George has been immersed in learning and online networks for such a long time that he presents a different level of insight.  He shared some of his insight when I asked him about the opportunities of big data on education.

 

‘Connected’ learning

Canadian principal George Couros spent last week sharing his  ‘connected’ learning with our teachers and leaders.  Several school leaders said they felt ‘inspired’ after hearing George talk so passionately about his students, profession and his professional learning.

The workshops with George and our Principals Masterclass may look like ‘stand-alone’ or ‘one-off’ events but they are actually part of a learning continuum that began seven years ago.  The mere fact that our leaders have an opportunity to collectively engage in deep conversations on learning is powerful learning.

At the start of the 2012 school year, we set our collective focus to ‘learning by inquiring’ – how we could engage in the inquiry and knowledge building cycle within schools and across the system.  It builds on the work of Helen Timperley by responding to the emerging needs of ‘our class’ – whether it be school leaders, teachers or learners.  It requires a commitment to engage in continuous learning through collective problem solving and data analysis to improve the learning outcomes for each student.

PMC-98For me, the principals masterclass was a high point in this journey to improve learning and build capacity.  When we started we relied heavily on outside experts but last week we had our own leaders sharing their learning.  Although the context of the school communities may be different, there is a shared vision that transcends physical and virtual borders.

As I listened to the keynotes, three things became clear.   The first is we are beginning to get the language right – we are crafting a new narrative shaped by the best of what we know when it comes to improving learning and teaching.  The second is we are developing greater precision around the work by getting rid of the ‘noise in the background’.  We are focusing on the things that make a difference – the high effect strategies to drive change where it counts most.  Thirdly after listening to our school leaders, we are now seeing tangible evidence of building teacher capacity and its impact on student engagement and learning.  It’s starting to make a difference.

All of this leads into new areas for discussion and new ways of working but we are doing this together.  In the past we’ve “intellectualised” the process of improvement but ignored the implementation process.   Competing narratives haven’t led to sustainable change – the discussion was broad and shallow.  Yet what I saw and heard last week was a significant shift at the point of delivery – system leaders working with school leaders working with teachers – everyone as George said ‘elbows deep in learning.’

If there is one thing that resonated with me when listening to George it was the importance of modelling the what, how and why of what we do.  It challenges us to lead in the way we ask our leaders to, teach in the way we ask our teachers to and learn in the way we ask our students to.

A learner’s voice

I have often asked my colleagues to write guest blogs as a way of sharing expertise from those at the coalface. In reality, those at the heart of schooling are our students.

CCSP - kidsIn May, we hosted the Council of Catholic School Parents’ Conference.  The theme was iConnect and the weekend was in part an opportunity to assuage the fears of parents by allowing students to showcase the technology being used in many of our classrooms. It was a case of students teaching the adults – a wonderful thing to see.

Among the senior students at CCSP was Lois from Loyola Senior High at Mt Druitt.  I asked Lois if she would write a guest blog on how technology has helped enrich her learning.  Lois jumped at the opportunity to share her reflections on the use of technology:

As students we are actively engaging and learning with technology to enhance and support our learning. Educational tools, such as the iPad (which many schools have rolled out an implementation program for) are not only simple to use but the availability of apps helps us learn and enables us to present our work in a variety of ways.

Of course, “What apps are there really out there that can truly be deemed educational?” and “How is it really benefiting the learning of students?” are questions that deserve an answer. There is never a clear, concise answer or a right or wrong answer. However, as a student who has firsthand experience with growing up in an education system that focuses strongly on technology and uses iPads in the classroom, I would like to share from my perspective as a young learner about educational apps for learning and the real benefit technology has on students.

Many have heard of iMovie, Garageband, Popplet, Pages, Creative Book Builder etc where students have created work based on Challenge Based Learning projects and present their findings through a chosen option such as mind maps, short film clips, songs and possibly even their very own iBook creation. The highlight about learning with the iPad is that it potentially allows every student to express their learning as they like it best. An auditory learner can effectively showcase their learning by creating songs and clips just the same as a visual learner can through creating mind maps and iBooks.

With technology expanding and growing, I see the role of a teacher in a technology rich world as someone who is able to use technology wherever and whenever appropriate and applicable. A number of educators I have come across have not only supported our use of technology in learning but also took the initiative to create their own resources for their classes that students can access on their iPad.

As a senior high school student, an app I recently came across called ‘Prelim Legal’ was designed by a senior high school teacher which involved videos packed with straightforward, uncomplicated material along with annotated pictures to make it much easier for any student to grasp the content and understand it easily. Filled with hours of videos including mp3 audio with clear explanations, the syllabus can effectively be taught and be accessed at any time, not restricting learning to only take place in the classroom.

Other teachers have created their own iBooks for distribution to students. The content is straight to the point and focuses on what needs to be learnt in the most effective way possible.  This allows students to comprehend the information at their own pace and in their own way as each student absorbs and remembers content differently.

Lessons that involve technology suddenly become more exciting, and students tend to become more engaged. It may be that when we hear ‘technology’ we immediately think of lessons being appealing and stimulating, or it could possibly be that we acknowledge and appreciate when teachers incorporate the use of technology in the classroom. Then again, it may just be that with technology at the touch of our fingertips and all these resources suddenly available to students, we can begin to take charge of our own learning.

I don’t think Lois is an atypical high school student. I meet so many like her. These are students who understand the world in which they live and the tools needed to enable them to learn, communicate and contribute. Are schools good at listening and learning from these voices?

Big data buzz

A few months ago I came across an ad for IBM in the Harvard Business Review.  The title was “The more we know, the more we want to change everything.”  Ads don’t normally capture my attention but this one did.  As I’ve written before, there are many things that schools can learn from business.  We share the desire to continually improve our product (learning and teaching) and to use technology in smarter ways to understand our students (clients) in order to deliver a better experience. The ad says:

Across the world, a distinct group of leaders is emerging who possess both a wealth of data and an acuity of analytical insight that that their predecessors never had.  So they feel freer to act – with a calculated boldness – to lead the big shifts that are reverberating through their organisations. They are making bold decisions and advancing them on the basis of rich evidence; they are anticipating events, not merely reacting to them; and they are toppling the conventions that stand in the way of thinking and working smarter.

The adage is knowledge is power but data is knowledge. The more we know, the more we can do and in this age of personalisation, big data is big business.  I think however its impact on education is yet to be fully realised. We’ve always known that data is critical to our work but it’s been the case of what to do with it and how to use it effectively to anticipate [learning needs] rather than merely react to them.

There is obviously a buzz in education now around big data or learning analytics.  The 2013 K-12 Horizon report includes learning analytics as one of its mid term trends.  According to the report, “learning analytics leverages student data to build better pedagogies, target at-risk student populations, and assess whether programs designed to improve retention have been effective and should be sustained.”

This is taking personalised learning to a whole new level.  As more and more schools move to online learning, this will make it so much easier for teachers to examine students’ progress in real time and to respond accordingly.

symbol1The Khan Academy is one organisation that has been developing its metrics in order to understand learners’ progress and performance.  Two years ago I met Ramona Pierson who used her own extraordinary journey to develop tools for blind people, which then segued into education.  Ramona is now the CEO of Pierson Labs, which is developing tools to help teachers create more personalised lesson for students that combines learning analytics and social networking platforms.

Learning analytics will not only significantly impact on students’ learning but also on teacher learning.  Imagine as Ramona says mapping the learning progression of teachers against the needs of students – this means being one step ahead instead of five years behind.

As Lyn Sharratt and Michael Fullan write in Putting Faces to the Data, effective teachers combine emotion and cognition in equal measure.  Teaching is a balance between art and science, data and humanity.  The proliferation of learning analytics will enable every teacher to make decisions based on rich evidence not assumptions.

I’d like to think that the more teachers know about their students, the more they want to change everything. These teachers don’t see artificial divides between performance data and student well being, they see it as a symbiotic relationship that gets richer the deeper you dive. The test is how feedback is given and it’s used to improve our core business – learning and teaching.

The 21st Century Textbook

Don Tapscott’s latest book is not actually a book but an iPad app New Solutions for a Connected Planet.  It was created in partnership with Thinkers50 and sponsored by the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto.

What makes this app innovative is that it is an evolving ‘book’ full of real-time, rich media content that allows readers (users) to navigate and interact in a way that a hardcopy or even eReader book couldn’t accommodate.

This is the start of a new breed of reference books that shows what you can do to take digital content to the next level. Think of the potential for learning and teaching… a 21st century textbook that allows the learner to navigate, press, wipe, slide, watch, listen and share all in the one place. It’s served up in a highly interactive and engaging way for a digital savvy generation.

The app itself is well worth a look offering Don’s latest thinking on how we can rebuild 10 institutions, including education, for the networked age.

In his Ted Talk, Four principles for the open world Don talks about the notion of sharing IP (intellectual property) to provide the rising tide in order to ‘lift everyone’s boats’. He sees the potential of the digital, global ecomony as a ‘turning point in human history’ requiring organisations and businesses to become more open, porous and fluid. It’s likely this thinking is the reason why he has made his new book free via iTunes.

There are some tools already available like iBooks Author app for users to create something similar with text enriched by multimedia and the ability to publish/share the book via iTunes and other channels.

I’m sure we can expect to see even more sophisticated ‘books’ like this in the future. I would love to hear your thoughts on the 21st century textbook?

It’s a small ‘virtual’ world

I’m not sure if you have had this experience, but the last thing I expected while travelling in Greece on a pilgrimage with Catholic Education colleagues was to be approached by two fellow Australians who recognised me from my Twitter profile.

A 21st century encounter with my colleagues developed through social networking.

It was a powerful moment to connect ‘face to face’ with people who had become my professional colleagues in a very 21st century kind of way. Social media is a phenomenon that’s here to stay and one that has made it possible to connect with people outside your physical sphere on a daily basis to share thinking, learning and ideas. This chance encounter helped me realise that the professional learning community we are a part of via Twitter or other online tools might feel mostly ‘virtual’ but it is real. It’s not just a world of ideas, it is a community of educators who share a common interest to improve learning and teaching. What we share online has the potential to encourage, inspire and stretch us to improve the work we do and the way we go about it.

Recently George Couros (@gcouros) wrote about the importance of using Twitter to not only share information, but to listen and to engage. He made the point that it’s not good enough for schools, organisations and businesses to just ‘be online’ and share information alone. They must listen to those they serve. If we don’t use the tools effectively to engage, to collaborate and participate in the conversation, we risk using a ‘Web 2.0 tool in a Web 1.0 way’ and never take full advantage of its capabilities. Online tools shouldn’t be used as a monologue stream, because the technology is designed for dialogue.

For myself, tools like Twitter and Bluyonder allow me to be part of a global professional learning community and is an opportunity to share my own ideas and engage with the ideas of others for my own professional improvement in the work I do as a system leader.

Bumping into my colleagues in Greece demonstrates the power of this online community and is a good reminder that what we share and do in the virtual world does have an impact in the physical world.

Learning without a licence

It never ceases to amaze me how when confronted with challenging issues we tend to default to our past experiences. Perhaps it’s because hindsight provides 20/20 vision or because it gives us a sense of security to cling to what we know. But in a knowledge age, when it comes to solving today’s problems and anticipating tomorrow’s challenges, we have to talk about a new paradigm, and look to change our habits. No time like the present, let’s start today.

I was recently asked to comment on an idea floated by Australia’s leading child and adolescent psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg who suggested bringing in licences for young people to use mobile phones and tablets at school; giving students access to use the devices only once they’d been taught what was safe and responsible and agreed to abide by a set of rules and conditions.

Licensing use of itself does nothing to change practice or encourage innovation and creativity. In fact it can do just the opposite. The retreat to regulation raises more issues than it solves. I can understand why there would be some fears for students’ safety but the suggestion to license students doesn’t make any sense; once students get outside the school yard and classroom, they freely use their personal devices in all other areas of life, just as freely as they can draw water from a tap.

I recently came across this blog post highlighting an interesting list of quotes from Collins and Halverson’s (2009) ‘Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology’  showing that this fear for new technology in education is not a new phenomenon.

•    From a principal’s publication in 1815: “Students today depend on paper too much.  They don’t know how to write on a slate without getting chalk dust all over themselves. They can’t clean a slate properly. What will they do when they run out of paper?”
•    From the journal of the National Association of Teachers, 1907: “Students today depend too much upon ink.  They don’t know how to use a pen knife to sharpen a pencil. Pen and ink will never replace the pencil.”
•    From Rural American Teacher, 1928: “Students today depend upon store bought ink.  They don’t know how to make their own.  When they run out of ink they will be unable to write words or ciphers until their next trip to the settlement. This is a sad commentary on modern education.”
•    From Federal Teachers, 1950: “Ballpoint pens will be the ruin of education in our country. Students use these devices and then throw them away.  The American values of thrift and frugality are being discarded. Businesses and banks will never allow such expensive luxuries.”
•    From a science fair judge in Apple Classroom of Tomorrow chronicles, 1988: “Computers give students an unfair advantage.  Therefore, students who used computers to analyze data or create displays will be eliminated from the science fair.”

It doesn’t surprise me then that the knee-jerk reaction to technology in schools is to want to restrict students.

What will schooling look like in the future? I often think about this question and I have come to realise that we won’t find the answer in the past. We’ll find the answer in the very work we do today; work that is based on good theory and good practice. Learning and teaching has to be driven by innovation, entrepreneurship and creativity. We need to have a willingness to look outward rather than inward, a willingness to look forward rather than backward, especially in Education where learning means constantly being open to discovering new ideas and information, wisdom and understanding.

Shaun Parker says students were learning dance moves from videos on YouTube.

I believe that to limit students’ use of technology is to limit their possibilities. For the last four years, our schools in greater western Sydney have been working in collaboration with Shaun Parker – a well-known talent in professional contemporary dance. The result of our collaboration in 2012 was The Yard, a 60-minute performance exploring school yard issues using contemporary dance forms.

In this STUDIO Art Break video, Shaun makes a few interesting points about how the students constantly watch videos on YouTube to work on their moves. ‘They teach it to themselves, they learn in the schoolyard,’ he said. ‘They think and move very quickly with ideas because they access that many ideas when they click on YouTube or when they chat to their friends’. He said while he has utilised that, he has also tried to crystallise and channel it ‘so it isn’t just a series of fast ideas’ – this proves how pervasive and essential technology is to students’ learning.

When new technology is faced with fear of the unknown and from a ‘that’s the way things have always been done’ framework, we miss out the creativity and innovation that springs forth. Sure, we need to learn from the past, but we also need to seek answers to the future in the present work we do. If we base all our work on past experience, we are never going to move forward.

We know what makes a difference. We know that from birth, today’s students live in a Web 2.0 world, a world which is only going to get increasingly more complex as the technology matures. Rather than default to a ‘limit and control’ mentality, we’ve got to ask the question: how do we deal with these issues?

The cornerstone of success in the information age comes from understanding how to learn and a willingness to continue to learn. It’s about being responsive and adaptive to change and having a sense of openness towards the future. We need to learn how to take advantage of the new tools for learning as they fast become available and make the most of these learning opportunities.

Are we trend setters or chasers?

The New Media Consortium will release its 2012 K-12 Edition of the Horizon Report next month. I’ve read this with great interest over past years as it identifies and describes emerging technologies which will impact on education over the next 1-5 years.

If you’re interested, you can read through the Horizon Project preview – it predicts that mobiles and apps as well as tablet computing be adopted in a year or less. Within two to three years, game based learning and personal learning environments should be adopted across K-12.  And within four to five years augmented reality and natural user interfaces will be the tools of choice for students and teachers.

For many educators, the use of technology is a significant leap in practice but for others, the future is already here. The emerging trends raises an interesting question for me: do we need to institute core competencies for teachers around use of technologies in the learning space?  The answer to this is probably dependent on your worldview of schooling, its purpose and processes.  If you see schools in an industrial model, you’ll have a certain response.  If you are pushing the boundaries and exposing students to emerging technology, you’ll have a different response.  Too often however, we take the default position of limit and control.

This question has been at the front of my mind this week ahead of my keynote and participation in a debate on BYOD at the Technology in K-12 Education National Congress 2012. I find it interesting that in light of the Horizon Report, we are still debating the pros and cons of BYOD in schools. Technology is only going to stretch us as educators as we look for ways of ensuring the tools can adequately support personalised learning.

I’m not sure if any of the local readers have seen a series of stamps released by Australia Post  titled ‘Now and Then’.  These stamps depict how the ‘technological revolution has touched the daily lives of most Australians’ from phone boxes to mobiles  from record players to iPods.  What I noticed when I saw these stamps was the relatively seamless transition of technology into our daily lives – yet it hasn’t occured in every school environment.

If you think back to the seventies, there was little difference between home and school ‘technology’.  For example, if you had a colour TV at home and a cassette player, you would probably find these in most classrooms.  Enter the digital revolution and the gap begins to widen between home and school.  Most households today have multiple devices, we’re connected to the web and we can access learning anytime, anywhere on any device yet in many schools the devices are limited or they are not being used to deepen student learning and thinking.  We’re hesitant about building connections or embracing the opportunities of online learning.

This is Prof Stephen Heppell talking four years ago about the role of emerging technologies.  Will we still be having the same conversation in four years time or will game based learning and augmented reality be the norm?  To quote Heppell ‘if you’re an eleven year old today, you’ve only ever experienced life in the 21st century and you’re probably hearing this debate around technology and 21st century learning and thinking get on with it already – an eighth of the century is already gone!’

In the not too distant future, we have become trend setters not trend chasers.

Crossing the social media divide

The listing of Facebook on the stock exchange (now valued at $100 billion) highlights how social media has become serious business.  As we conceptualise organisations differently as dynamic, porous and self-learning, we must recognise that social media has be part of the expanded tool kit of leaders. This is no where more pressing than for school leaders and I don’t think we can be observers anymore, we must be participants and contributers to the educational narrative.

In a news article last week, principals in South Australian public schools will be encouraged to ‘blog, tweet and use a school Facebook page to communicate with parents and the local community.’  It’s part of a broader strategy developed by the SA Education Department to improve leadership in public education.  While the initiative is timely, it does leave out a critical aspect of social media – the opportunity to collaborate and connect with peers.

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to address our newly appointed leaders and explained that if leaders are not socially aware and social media literate, then it’s difficult to understand the context in which we are learning and teaching.  Social media such as blogs and tweets are powerful tools to enable and empower school leaders.  When you are continuously sharing, reflecting and engaging with people, it stretches your thinking. You learn by sharing, you learn by learning, you learn by connecting with others.

It’s this ability to connect that gives leaders the confidence to draw from the wisdom of the crowd in order to share and solve problems.  When leaders are networked into other, more expanded, learning communities (physical and virtual), you see best practice being shared freely and connections develop so that there is an ever expanding understanding of what is achievable.

Michael Fullan in Change Leader has a chapter on collaboration.  Fullan cites a study of Stanford business graduates which found  the ‘most creative individuals had broad social networks that extend outside their organisations and involved people from diverse fields of expertise..were three times more innovative than uniform vertical networks.’(p99).

I have never proclaimed to be a tech guru but I do use social media and have benefitted enormously from the depth of professional conversation and feedback on twitter and bluyonder.  Despite trying to engage and encourage my colleagues, the response has been luke warm. I believe this is reflective of a growing gap between those who are connected and those who aren’t; leaders who are taking responsibility for their own learning and growth and those who are happy to continue along the same path.

Mary Beth Hertz wrote an insightful post recently about the social media divide in education. Reflecting on her experience at a recent teaching conference, Hertz noted that she was part of a ‘small group of educators who were tweeting and blogging about the sessions’ and how her virtual colleagues had developed a common language, drawing from a common canon of books, articles, blog posts and thought leaders.

In recognising the growing gap between teachers, Hertz says:

We are part of a community of learners that knows no walls, that our learning has no boundaries. We can meet someone face to face for the first time, draw from the same knowledge base and even continue a conversation that may have spanned thousands of miles.  These conversations are also based on current research, and on articles written by leaders in the education world.  We take these conversations and this knowledge back to our classrooms and our schools, impacting our students and our colleagues.  Teachers who learn together grow together. And teachers who grow together teach children in powerful ways.  This silent gap, should it remain unclosed, will only widen the existing, perceptible gap in our schools.

Leaders have a responsibility to look for ways of  closing the gap.  As Fullan says in Change Leaders effective leaders in whatever field walk into the future through examining their own and others’ best practice, looking for insights they had not previously noticed.  Social media is one way of allowing leaders to do this.  How many of your colleagues have crossed the social media divide?

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