Posts tagged ‘Web 2.0’

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.

Banning connectivity

An interesting article in the weekend paper posing the perennial question: do social networking sites cost productivity at work?  (N.B I recall the same question being posed a decade ago when MSN Messenger was popular).

Kath Lockett writing in MyCareer (5-6 June 2010) cites a survey of the top 500 US Business in which 60% said the biggest risk to security was Facebook followed by MySpace and Twitter.

As one IT marketing expert in Lockett’s article asks, ‘are we so afraid that people are going to interact with others from their desk for free instead of paying thousands to attend a conference?’

Web 2.0 strategist, Ian McKee also explores the Five Reasons Companies Should Not Block Access to Social Networks on his blog.

The real value of social networking is that information and ideas are freely exchanged and available: the power of networks over the silo.  In this era of collaboration, we need to find ways of sharing expertise and practice, not looking for ways to block it.

Is censorship sensible?

I’ve been following discussion of the Federal Government’s proposed mandatory internet filter initiative.  Support seems to be fading for the program as the public ironically gathers more information about which sites could be blocked.

With the rise of social networking sites, the net has become a kind of bastion of democracy where free speech and freedom of information reigns.  Yet even in China, the internet has become a battleground between the state and the citizen.

As an educator, I am critical of any form censorship since it’s a rather blunt instrument to solve a complex problem. Add to this that technologies are not as perfect as claimed and often only encourage deeper attempts to by pass them and it’s easy to see why we should be more questioning.

I think we should opt instead for greater discernment on the part of teachers/students.  First and foremost, students need to cognisant of the challenges and opportunities provide by access to the web and of the responsibilities this sort of technological access brings. In many ways we face the same challenges as early mankind did when they discovered how to draw on cave walls and the society did with the invention of the printing press.

History is littered with failed attempts at controlling how citizens should communicate, collaborate and express themselves.  What we have learned from these experiences is, the best form of protection is a deeper understanding of how you teach people social responsibility.

A Catholic worldview puts a greater emphasis on responsibility and perhaps we should be using a Catholic imagination to discuss what is a ‘virtual conscience’ and how might it apply in a world of converging technologies.

Sadly, the allure of the net is anonymity.  When I was at school, you knew who the bully was but in the virtual world, you often don’t and there seems to be little protection against this.

Rosemary Neill has written a provocative piece in the Weekend Australian on whether we need to censor the net to contain the spread of racism, hatred etc.  Neill cites recent examples of Facebook vandalism and teacher bullying.

I found author Clive Hamilton’s comments in the piece interesting; Hamilton supports internet censorship:

I think that it [a filter] would send a very strong signal, because at the moment the social signal is ‘anything goes’ and many people are disturbed by that.

As educators, we must be addressing these issues on a daily basis with students because we cannot let the technologies define the society we become.   The moral character must define social norms and behaviours.




Understanding data

Naplan testing begins today for students in years 3,5,7 and 9.  It’s good to see that schooling didn’t grind to a halt – life, learning and teaching does go on.

I was pleased to read Dr Judy Smeed’s comments in today’s Australian – finally a voice of reason in the whole Naplan/MySchool debate.

Dr Smeed, an educator at the Queensland University of Technology believes that the real disappointment of Naplan is that not enough teachers are taught how to analyse and use the results to improve their teaching.

According to Dr Smeed, QUT is the only university in Australia that trains  teachers to understand educational data.  This is a serious oversight of many teacher training institutions given what we know about the role of data/feedback in improving learning outcomes.

The fear around league tables is symptomatic of a simplistic understanding about educational data.  No-one is pointing the finger – what we need is rational debate and greater understanding of what the data is telling us about a particular student at a particular point in time.

Companies like Facebook and Google depend on user data – it allows them to understand their users and develop tools that are ‘personalised’ and ‘targeted’.

If Google et al are using data to continually improve their service for users – then isn’t this what contemporary schooling should be about?  ‘Targeted and personalised’ learning for every student.

And a final thought on this issue. Good teachers never teach to the test , as is so often claimed. Good teachers make sure that students understand what the test is but spend their precious time on making sure their students can think for themselves. They also use the data from such test to help inform their practice. To suggest otherwise only denigrates the work that they do.

What poor teachers do is another matter!

Beyond the horizon

I’ve just returned from presenting at the iNet Conference in Melbourne where I had the opportunity to do a little show and tell…..the iPad.  I brought an iPad to demonstrate the point that learners control the device in the learning and not the reverse.

This will excite some and unsettle many educators but we cannot deny what is happening before us – technology that is mobile, content rich and multi-sensory.

The Digital Education Revolution has taught us a valuable lesson – no learning gain is made from giving every student a laptop computer.  The real learning happens beforehand when teachers engage in a discussion around the  appropriate pedagogies for teaching in an online world.

How do students develop the skills of discernment, research and collaboration using these tools?  And can teachers help students make meaning and contextualise information if they are not themselves using the tools?

ACER released its snapshot of digital literacy last month.  The results show that disadvantaged students especially in rural and remote areas have not improved over three years and metropolitan students who have, have only marginally improved.

I believe we also need a snapshot of the digital literacy of teachers because only then will we see what impact it is having on student learning, skills and understanding.

One of the must-reads for all schools is the Horizon report K-12 edition 2010, which identifies five trends that will drive the adoption of technology in schools within the next five years:

  1. Technology is increasingly a means for empowering students, a method for communication and socialising
  2. Technology continues to profoundly affect the way we work, collaborate, communicate and succeed
  3. The perceived value of innovation and creativity is increasing
  4. There is increasing interest in just-in-time, alternate, or non-formal avenues of education, such as online learning, mentoring and independent study
  5. The way we think of learning environments is changing

The challenge for all schools and systems is how do we build a sustainable narrative about learning in today’s world that rejects the outmoded narrative of an industrial age?  How do we ensure schools are ready to deliver the new pedagogies?

Bruce Dixon is the Director of IdeasLab in Victoria.  Bruce and his colleagues already see that the where, what, when and how of teaching must change and they’re working to challenge teachers, principals and policy makers.  Click here to listen to Bruce.

TeachMeet 2010

As a system, we are looking into new ways of utilising technology to support teacher learning in situ.   One of the common complaints I hear from leaders is that in leading their schools they are often required to leave their school in order to share and learn from one another.

There is an explosion in the virtual world on sites like TeacherTube, YouTube of teachers sharing their work.  I think one of the real benefits is that it encourages teachers who were once reticent to open the doors of their classrooms to now share with a global audience.  Wouldn’t it be great if teachers shared practice locally and spread it globally!  As a system, the impetus is to find new ways of connecting and building on local experience.

One of my Scottish colleagues Frank Crawford recently reminded me of the educational conference TeachMeet. TM began in Scotland in the 1990s and offer teachers everywhere the chance to tap in to a conversation on learning and teaching. There’s a few happening over the coming months.

I was fortunate to attend one of these conferences last year at an impromptu GregMeet – a great experience and another powerful example of the virtual open classroom.

Tapping into twitter

It’s interesting to watch Twitter move from just another social networking tool to a powerful tool for professional conversations, social commentary and in some cases social change.

I started using Twitter this year and am amazed by the number of educators who are reflecting on their practice, expounding ideas and seeking answers to challenging questions.  

Clif Mims recently shared a link in his tweet: letters page from the NY Times on “What Makes a Good Teacher”.  It was a great piece that I would have missed and which may have only ever reached a handful of readers if not for the universal reach of Twitter.