Tag Archives: Life

Way too long between drinks…

I spent a bit of time tonight looking back at the stuff I’ve done this year and realised that it has been way too long since I’ve given a rundown of my experiences with education or technology here on my blog. I’ve made some minor updates to my website, but no real post to capture what I’ve been doing. So, this post will just lay out some of what I’ve been up to this year, and it should start me on a more consistent and regular posting run from this point on (at least, that’s the intention…)

  1. Re-design the system for reporting at school so that we generate all of our course documents from a single database – the same one we use for reporting and assessment;
  2. Win a CS4HS Grant from Google to deliver some PD to teachers – in the ACT and in Bendigo, Victoria – on integrating Computer Science into the curriculum through mathematics, english, art and other subjects;
  3. Founding President of InTERACT (Information Technology in Education and Research ACT) – ACCE affiliated professional organisation for educators in the ACT;
  4. Roll out a dual-boot image for MacBooks to all teachers at school, allowing them to use either Mac OS or Windows as required for individual lessons or classes;
  5. Apply for and be appointed to the ACARA Advisory Group for the Australian Curriculum: Technologies for the writing phase, working to advise the writers on the content that will ultimately become the Australian Curriculum;
  6. Begin developing a course for iTunes U that allows students to learn programming on an iPad – still in development, but excited by the possibilities of using this (and iBooks Author) as a means of deploying content to iPads;
  7. Accept a position with the Inspire Centre for ICT Education at the University of Canberra / ACT Education and Training Directorate to develop the capacity of schools and teachers to utilise Apple Technologies effectively in the classroom;
  8. Complete online courses in Cryptography and Gamification through Coursera – a free, online educational platform supported by world class universities;
  9. Enrol in a class on Designing a New Learning Environment through Stanford University’s Venture Lab platform;
  10. Work closely with the organisers of the ACCE Conference on their ACCE Unplugged hangout sessions to get people excited and ready for the ACCE National Conference which took place in Perth in early October; and
  11. Set up Apple TV as a wireless projection solution for iOS and (new) MacBook devices for use in the classroom on HDMI capable projectors and TVs, with the intent to roll this out to many more classrooms in the future (the setup costs under $1000 per room, compared to $7000 for an IWB).

They’re the highlights at least – I’m sure there have been other things, but that alone has taken up large chunks of time this year. Now that I think about it, I really have been busy, so it’s no real surprise to see why the blog has been quiet of late.

Still, I’m making the commitment now and everyone who ends up reading this post will be my witness – I’ll post regularly, and use this as a way of keeping track of what I’ve achieved and where I’m going. I hope you’ll join me on the journey!

Creating, Consuming and Knowing

I’m active in a number of forums online (Blogging is probably my lightest online presence) and I follow educational debates very closely. One that occurs in just about every forum in the online and physical world is the argument about students creating their own knowledge through projects and activities, and the critical importance of a constructivist approach to education in the world right now. I agree with the view that our kids (and indeed everyone else) need to construct their own knowledge, and that teachers should be providing students with all of the assistance and skills they need to be able to do this, but there are a couple of things I think a lot of educators forget about when they go on and on about the need for students to be creating ‘something’ to demonstrate their learning.

Assessing what students have learned is fraught with difficulty – they may not necessarily want to demonstrate what they know for social or personal reasons, they may be required to use a medium that doesn’t necessarily work for them (yes I’m looking at you standardised testing), or it might simply be that on the day we formally assess them they’re off their game. To help overcome this difficulty, we can use formative assessment strategies and can give the kids greater flexibility over how and what they present. So far I don’t think anything I’ve said is too controversial, and if you’re an educator I’d like to think that so far you’re nodding your head in agreement with me.

Here comes the kicker – how well do you differentiate between the creation of knowledge and the creation of things?

The iPad was met with a very mixed response when it was introduced – some people think its fantastic, others say it doesn’t have all the features they want but that it has potential, and others think its just a downright stupid idea. Without a doubt though, the greatest criticism I hear of it is that its emphasis on the consumption of information means it is not a relevant device for the world our students live in. Those who hold this view point to other portable devices and say how much more superior they are because they allow students to create things, whether they be multimedia-rich projects or simple word processing documents. Without getting into a debate about whether or not the iPad can ever be a creation device (I think it has that potential), if you are one of those people that holds this view, I want you to read through the scenarios I present below and reconsider your view. In both scenarios, pretend you are a student.

Scenario 1: Consumption, Consumption, Consumption

Imagine yourself walking into a library that has been redesigned from the ground up. It’s full of all of the latest novels, magazines, journals, and it’s got multiple TV screens and computers that deliver streaming media, news and commentary 24/7. It has a podcast library that allows you to download directly from it to any device, as well as open access to any online subscription service you can think of. You can turn on your own iPad, Acer netbook, Android mobile or Ubuntu notebook – all of them connect instantly to a wireless network that is secured but has no blocking filters in place, allowing you to interact with the world around you in a multitude of ways, including access to your social networks and chat services. You spend 8 hours in that environment, investigating things you’re interested in and learning about things you didn’t even know existed, simply by following links and catching interesting tidbits of information from the variety of stimulus material around you.

Question: Have you learned anything? Has that experienced allowed you to construct new knowledge?

Scenario 2: Creation, Creation, Creation

You get home from school and sit down to work on an assessment task. The task requires you to demonstrate what you have learned in class by posting to a blog, constructing an ePortfolio of your classwork, contributing to a class wiki and creating a 2 minute podcast episode that highlights what you have learned. You sit down and spend 8 hours working on this task, and create products that you’re fairly happy with.

Question: Have you learned anything? Has that experienced allowed you to construct new knowledge?


My guess is that in both cases, you’ve answered the question the same way – yes, you’ve learned something and you’ve had the opportunity to construct some new knowledge or understanding from the experience. I’m not going to argue about that – I agree that in both cases the student has been given real opportunities to engage with and develop their own idea of what knowledge is.

What I’m curious about is which experience has been most useful for the student in terms of learning new things and developing an informed opinion about what (s)he learned as a result of each experience.

I think it would be fair to say that if students are consuming information that comes from a variety of sources and provides alternative perspectives and views, that the consumption of that array of information allows them to truly construct knowledge. If, however, we simply sat them down and got them to simply make things from what they know already (e.g. make a podcast, now make a blog, now make a website, now write a computer program, now create a movie…), I would argue that the experiences of that student would be much less rewarding and the knowledge they create is much more narrow.

It’s easy to hold up the creation of “stuff” as being the ultimate goal of education – if kids are making stuff, they are obviously learning something – but I also think it’s important that educators do NOT underestimate the value of consuming stuff too. The creation of knowledge does not have to result in a tangible product being produced – if that was the case, there’d be a lot of people out there who wasted a LOT of time over the years. Equally, the creation of stuff does not necessarily demonstrate the creation of knowledge.

A New Virtual Learning Environment

Today I received the news that my school has been selected as one of 8 in the ACT to pilot the new Virtual Learning Environment being adopted by the ACT DET. It’s called connected Learning communities (cLc) and is published by Uniservity. I know very little about it but from all accounts it’s going to be a big improvement on the existing product we use now.

It’s got me thinking – are these internally managed VLEs a solution that we should be investing time and money into? Part of the pilot program will require me to help staff at the school learn the environment and then integrate it into their practice – this is going to be time consuming and add to an already heavy workload. Would there be more benefit in selecting environments / tools teachers area already familiar with (like facebook, twitter, wordpress, edmodo, flickr etc) and simply deliver our students their educational experiences this way? It would save a heap on PD, and the fact that teachers already know many of the technologies should mean they’ll be able to come up with interesting ways to use them without prompting and hand-holding from other staff.

Of course, the big issues with such an approach are those relating to privacy and security of information. We can’t have our students publishing information about themselves willy-nilly online (even if that information is only used by the provider of the tool for account registration purposes) for legal and social/safety reasons – I understand this. We’re in a situation now where mistakes aren’t allowed – the legal and personal ramifications for such an event are too destructive. If we continue to see technology evolve at the rate it has been, I don’t think the legal system will ever be able to keep up with the changes.

So, instead we provide safe “sandpits” for the kids to work in. I really am looking forward to a bigger sandpit with more toys (and toys that are actually going to work well) – I just hope that we all keep in mind that the world outside of that sandpit is a very different place, and we need to make sure that when the kids leave it they know that their sandcastles aren’t going to be anywhere near as safe on the beach as they were in the sandpit. There was no water, animals or nasty outsiders to knock them down.