Teaching & Learning in the 21st Century

Here’s a short video that provides a look at one of my educational endeavours since my last post on this blog. I’ve been coordinating the ‘Teaching and Learning in the 21st Century’ professional development program involving approximately 240 teachers from across Victoria for the Digital Learning Branch, part of Victoria’s Department of Education and Training.

If you can’t see this video because YouTube is blocked in your school, you can see another copy here.

It’s been a great opportunity to work with some amazing people. Presenters at our face to face days included educators and thinkers like Will Richardson, Jenny Luca, Mel Cashen, Margo Edgar, Rich Lambert, Narissa Leung, John Pearce, Lois Smethurst, Bec Spink and Andrew Williamson. What a list! In addition to many of our presenters acting as team coaches we also benefitted from the coaching skills of another impressive list of educators that included Corrie Barclay, Roland Gesthuizen, Sam Irwin, and Michelle Meracis. Apart from our conferences at NMIT, most of our activity is within private Google+ Communities, but you can also see some of it on the blogs listed below and by checking out the #TL21C hashtag on Twitter.

2013-2014 1st group’s blog.
2013-2014 2nd group’s blog.
2014-2015 groups’ blog.

As usual, the best places to catch up with my thoughts and activity in education and technology are Google+ and Twitter, though you’ll find me discussing other topics too. Here are some of my G+ collections on edtech and education:

Edtech collection.
Education collection.

Here are the links to the Private Communities on G+ for participants in the TL21C programs:

2013-2014 1st group.
2013-2014 2nd group.
2014-2015 groups.

Reflection on PLN 2013

Here’s a short 30 second Animoto video illustrating just some of the things I took away from my participation in VicPLN 2013. The free version of Animoto has a 30 second limit, which is fortunate, as you’d otherwise be looking at a very long video! For any educators keen to build useful 21st Century skills and to expand their professional learning network, I highly recommend the VicPLN courses from the talented team at the School Libraries Association of Victoria (SLAV).

Try our slideshow maker at Animoto.

Fear of oversight is stronger than ever! Have I said too much?

The French philosopher Michel Foucault (1926-1984), writing on power and punishment, described how we moved from a world in which our freedoms were limited through the exercise of external power to one where our freedoms are limited through the exercise of our own self-control. This is even more true today of our behaviour online. Tech savvy users are careful not to put anything into an email or an online post that could reflect badly on them in the future. The fear of oversight and the fear of the documentation of any misdeed controls our behaviour. We are not as free as we think we are.

On social networks there are many invitations to support political causes – ‘refugees’ vs ‘border protection’, ‘social welfare’ vs ‘economic self-responsibility’ etc. Some people are afraid to express their views on topical issues like these. Others express their views freely, sometimes to their cost. Most of us self-regulate because we fear the exercise of power against us. Civil authorities and future employers may respond unfavourably to some free expression online. The possibility that our views may be observed by others controls us.

In important respects our behaviour is more effectively controlled today than ever before. That has both positive and negative consequences. One of the positives is that it encourages us to behave responsibly – to be accountable and to be ‘good citizens’. Those who are caught out in the act of bullying or expressing racial hatred online run the risk of serious consequences to their careers and to their reputations.

Many people who are building or maintaing their careers choose to keep separate professional and private profiles. There’s a lot to be said for that. It’s not what I do, but I understand why separation makes sense for many people. If you want followers on Twitter who are interested in education, then perhaps it’s best not to tweet about your weekend sailing the Whitsundays or who you’ll be voting for at the next election. In the end, it comes down to personal preference. How public and how focused do you want to be?

I mostly post in public across a range of topics that interest me. I’ve already completed two careers – one in teaching and one in business – so I’ve less need to be careful than someone in their twenties with a lifetime of work and future employers ahead of them. Nonetheless, I still moderate my posts. I act part-time as teacher, professional developer and consultant, so I try to portray a professional image online. If I’m ‘googled’ I want people to gain a positive impression of me.

That doesn’t stop me from broaching more controversial subjects – religion, sex, politics etc. – but when it comes to discussing topics about which people are especially sensitive, I’m more likely to use a pseudonym or to communicate with a restricted audience. My arguments are sometimes more forthright and aggressive in these contexts, but I always treat people with respect, even when they say outrageous things. I do this because I’m ‘a good citizen’, but also because I know that, since my anonymity  can evaporate at any time, being ‘a good citizen’ is in my own best interests. If I’m aggressive in putting a logical argument, but remain respectful of the person on the other side, I can live with the consequences. If I call them ‘a fool’ or ‘an idiot’, it neither makes me feel better nor creates a positive impression for those who might come across my rudeness.

Following Foucault’s advice, we need to be aware of the structures of power that exist around us. We have to be careful what we say and who we say it to. Exercising self-discipline is even more important in the twenty first century than it was in the twentieth. Students, teachers and anyone who is active online need to understand the importance of promoting an image of themselves that creates a positive impression for as many potential viewers as possible. It’s worth deleting those Facebook profile pictures featuring a beer in the hand or cigarette in the mouth. Image matters.

Big Brother Poster

Professional Networking – Learning from people I’ll never meet.

Social Networks and Online Communities

Learning through Social Networks and Online Communities is mostly about learning from people I’ll never meet. Occasionally, to my delight, the unexpected happens, and I get to meet a person I’ve interacted with extensively online. When that happens we greet like old friends.

I’ve learned a great deal from my direct teaching experience, from face to face PD sessions, from my students, from my teaching colleagues and from reading material they’ve recommended, but I’ve learned still more from connections online.

I’ve connected through Google+, Twitter, LinkedIn and online communities like the Google Teacher Academy, the PLP Network, and more recently, VicPLN. The sharing and discussion in the VicPLN and the Australian-e-Series Facebook groups illustrate just how useful online communities can be for discovering educational ideas and resources.

I’ve still much to learn about professional networking online, especially on Facebook, which I’ve used mostly to stay in touch with family and friends, and Pinterest, which I’ve used less frequently. I’m looking forward to learning how to better use Facebook professionally this year. I’ll continue exploring Pinterest too, though I’m less sure how active I’ll become there.

Google+ and Twitter

I do most of my networking on Google+ and Twitter which are now the second and third largest social networks respectively. They make it easy to read the thoughts of interesting people and to share my own thoughts with them. We can converse, argue, laugh, learn, engage, and, if we’re busy, ignore one another – something we can’t do face to face. Often the discussion revolves around a shared link to an online article or resource outside Google+ or Twitter, but it can also be a direct conversation with no external linking involved.

The key to success is making connections – to circle people on Google+ and to follow people on Twitter – the more the merrier. If you don’t do this, you’ll suffer the ‘ghost town’ syndrome or, if you’re a celebrity with many followers but minimal people you’re following, your ‘networking’ will be no more than advertising.

It’s also important to share, though you can start by ‘lurking’ as a follower or circler until you gain confidence. With Twitter it helps to use hashtags like #VicPLN or #edtech. They make it easier for people who don’t follow you to see your tweets. With Google+ it helps to join Communities which function like Facebook Groups.

Managing the Avalanche of Information

As I write this post I have more than 4000 people in my Google+ circles and more than 7000 people have circled me, so there’s too much information to show in readable form on screen. The flow is filtered automatically by Google and Twitter so that it’s possible to read, but it’s too rapid to digest. I use three strategies to manage the avalanche of information.

Firstly I use simple search. Both Google+ and Twitter allow me to enter searches that return posts or tweets relating to whatever search term I enter. If I want to read what people are saying about the Gonski education reforms, all I need to do is search for ‘Gonski’.

Secondly, I filter the stream to narrow the results. In Google+ I do this by switching from the full Google+ stream to circle streams or community streams. I might browse my ICT in Education circle’s stream or my Philosophy community’s stream. In Twitter I use TweetDeck to display separate columns for streams like the #vicpln hashtag and for individuals I find especially interesting.

Thirdly, I use automatic collation tools like Flipboard and Paper.li that present my streams in digital newspaper format. These provide a relaxing magazine like experience and, since I’ve only chosen to circle or follow people who share my interests, I invariably find interesting things to read.

Hanging Out

Google+ Hangouts also provide a great way to communicate more directly with others. Hangouts are similar to Skype except that you can have up to 10 people appearing on screen at one time and you can stream Hangouts to YouTube so that others can watch live or view a recording later. I’ve sometimes used hangouts to bring distant experts into discussion I’m having with teachers. The most impressive hangout recipe I’ve seen so far comes from Amanda Rablin and Roland Gesthuizen whose weekly ACCELN (Australian Council for Computers in Education Learning Network) Google Hangouts offer great value. You can read how they manage their hangouts here.

Google+ vs Twitter vs Facebook

Twitter and Google+ are very different tools. Twitter is better for discovering and discussing breaking news. Google+, like Facebook, is better for longer and more detailed discussion. I prefer the clean advertising free interface of Google+ and the ease of managing sharing compared to Facebook. Facebook’s advantage lies in its massive user base. If I want to find out about the next big family gathering, I go to Facebook, not Google+.

Google’s network began as a place for geeks, but that’s changing.  Already it has passed Twitter to become the second largest social network behind Facebook. I highly recommend it as a place for intelligent discussion. If you want to start Google+ with a bang, here’s my simple four step recipe for success.

Block or unblock? You can’t learn if you can’t do.

Facebook and Twitter are blocked at my primary school. I think that’s reasonable for students, but not for teachers. We expect to unblock Twitter and possibly Facebook this year after we’ve completed some staff PD on professional networking. If I was at a secondary school, I’d favour unblocking Twitter, Facebook and Google+. They all offer powerful educational potential and, to stay safe online, students need to learn how to use them safely and responsibly. We also need to teach them how to manage and control the distraction of social networking – no easy task, but an important one. When we teach students to ride bikes and drive cars we use real bikes and real cars. When we teach students to use social networks, we should use real social networks too.

More About Google Plus

Here’s a presentation that provides an excellent overview of Google Plus.  From my post of one month ago you can see that I’m a fan of Google’s new social network.

For students of marketing, this is also a great illustration of how to make an effective presentation. The clever use of infographics and clean slide design make it a pleasure to watch. SlideRocket Blog praises the presentation for the way “the viewer can digest the high-level message about Google Plus in just a few minutes, and then view it again later to glean the details. Presentations like this are a great way to demonstrate your knowledge, creativity and get the word out…”

New Literacies Group – PLP ConnectU

This year I’ve been fortunate to lead the New Literacies Group, one of six PBL teams involved in the DEECD Professional Learning Practice program of 2011, a project involving 70 teachers across Victoria. Digital media literacy is something I’m passionate about as it continues to rise in importance in every discipline and profession (1). Our team began by looking at new literacies of the more literary kind including online research, wikis, texting, blogging and micro-blogging. To keep things manageable we narrowed our focus to blogging – one of the key new literacies that has changed the way millions of people share and communicate with eachother.

Posting on Facebook, on a micro-blogging platform like Twitter or on a personal blog like this is now so commonplace that it’s easy to forget how new blogging is and how rapidly it is growing. Blogging didn’t become mainstream until this century. Facebook, with 800 million users (2), is less than eight years old, Twitter, with more than 200 million users (3) is less than six years old, and the big new social networking entrant Google+ has reached 50 million users in only three months (4).

These figures show that, if our students aren’t already blogging, then they will be soon. So it’s important that we help them and ourselves better understand blogging, its pitfalls and its benefits.

Our first task was to identify the key question to drive our PBL project. After much discussion we settled on, “In what ways does writing and communicating through blogging improve student learning and literacies?”

To our students, some as young as six, we simplified this to questions like, “How has blogging improved your reading and writing?” and “What have you learned through blogging?”

We also used this rubric to introduce both teachers and students to blogging to help them identify what they already know and what they need to learn. Most of our students are new to blogging, and so are some of our teachers, so we’re looking forward to recording our learning along the way.

I’m involved in a number of student, class blogs and school blogs, and I’ll use what I learn in this project to help them all. Since I’ll be spending more time with MAC H, a year 3/4 class at Winters Flat Primary School in term 4, and since these students are mostly new to blogging, I’ll be focusing on their blog and related student blogs to try and gauge the effect of blogging on student learning.  Please check out the MAC H blog here – comments are welcome.

(1) NMC Horizon Report K-12 2011

(2) LA. Times. September 22, 2011

(3) BBC, March 28, 2011

(4) Paul Allen, Google+, September 27, 2011

Google Plus

It’s been a long time between posts and this is the main reason.

GooglePlus

Google Plus combines many of the best features of Facebook and Twitter and has become my favourite way to learn from and share with others engaged in education and technology. Unfortunately Google has restricted G+ to those aged 18+, but in the future it may be rolled into Google Apps for Education making it available to both primary and secondary students.

I highly recommend Google Plus for those aged 18+.

Update: 28/10/11. Google Plus has just been incorporated into Google Apps for Education. Unfortunately the 18+ restriction still applies.

Update: 26/01/12. As of 26 Jan 2012 Google Plus is available to users aged 13+.

Not enough time? Blame Facebook! No, Twitter!

“Real Life”. I don’t like weeding the garden!
The power of ICT brings so many new possibilities to our lives that it can be difficult to choose which ones to pursue and which ones to ignore.  There’s simply not enough time to do all that we might want to do.
The miriad of possibilities created by ICT also bring into focus the distinction between “life online” and “life offline”.  “Real Life” or “RL” is used, sometimes ironically, to refer to life “in the real world” as opposed to “life on the Internet”.  This distinction makes sense to us because “life online” is a relatively new experience.  But for children and future generations with no experience of the world before Twitter and Facebook, the disctinction, if it lasts, may seem quaint.  More and more peole are forming close friendships with people they never meet “offline”.  More and more people are beginning relationships from a distance “online” that end in physical intimacy “offline”.  At a recent DEECD PD (PLP ConnectU) Will Richardson urged teachers to tell their students, “DO talk to strangers.” He said that he’d never met in person most of his best teachers.  That’s something I’ve only recently come to appreciate.
“You spend too much time on the computer,” is a valid criticism for husbands or wives who spend too long on Facebook or Twitter.  It’s certainly an offense I commit all too frequently. But it’s not because I’m ignoring “Real Life”.  Twitter has become part of my real life – but it can play havoc with my time management, just like a good book.  Facebook and Twitter, seductive as they are, must be balanced with many other real life commitments. There’s nothing more wonderful for me than time spent with my family.  That’s an easy “offline” activity, but it happens “online” too.  I don’t like weeding the garden.  That’s strictly “offline”, but I’ve still got to do it.

Do you ever get the feeling that there’s just not enough time to do all the things you “need” to do?

Social networking through sites like Facebook and Twitter is seductive. Online social networking may be one of the most profound sociological developments of the twenty first century – but it can also be a terrible waste of time! In an already busy world it has made our lives even busier!  ICT brings with it so many possibilities that it can be difficult to choose what to pursue and what to ignore.  There’s simply not enough time to do all that we want to do because we are spoilt for choice!

This miriad of possibilities also brings into focus the distinction between “life online” and “life offline”.  The term “In Real Life” or “IRL” is used, sometimes ironically, to refer to life “in the real world” as opposed to “life on the Internet”.  This distinction makes sense to us because “life online” is a relatively new experience.  But for children and future generations with no experience of the world before Twitter and Facebook, the disctinction, if it lasts, may seem a little quaint.  More and more people form close friendships with people they never meet “offline”.  More and more people begin relationships from a distance “online” that end in physical intimacy “offline”.  At a recent DEECD PD session (PLP ConnectU) Will Richardson urged teachers to tell their students, “DO talk to strangers.” (Safely, of course!) He said that most of his best teachers were people he’d never met.

“You spend too much time on Twitter,” is a fair criticism for many of us.  But it’s not because we’re ignoring “Real Life”. Twitter has become part of my real life – but it can play havoc with my time management, just like a good book. More importantly – even more than a good book – Twitter and all kinds of other ICT tools create entirely new and powerful possibilities that I never had before. That’s what makes them so exciting.  Gutenberg helped change the world. It’s now the turn of a five year old – Twitter.  Here’s some interesting writing on the topic:

Dismissed as a joke, Twitter revolutionises the way we communicate

Social Media Revolution

Short History of Twitter from Gutenberg

Is social media Gutenberg or Guttenberg? It’s actually both

Of course Facebook and Twitter, powerful and seductive as they are, must be balanced with our many other real life priorities.

There’s nothing more wonderful for me than time spent with my family.  That’s an easy “offline” activity, but it happens “online” too.

I don’t like weeding the garden.  That’s strictly “offline”, but I’ve still got to do it.

What should we do to ensure student safety online?

Click here for an interesting discussion about blogging and cyber-safety.
Questions discussed include:
– Should students use their names?
– Should we include student photos?
– Who should be allowed to visit and comment on the blog?
– How do we ensure student confidentiality when working online?
– And most importantly, how do we teach online safety to students?
The answers aren’t simple and, even where there is broad agreement, they don’t come in a simple ‘one-size fits all’ package.
This is well worth reading for teachers planning to have class or student blogs.

– Should students use their names?

– Should we include student photos?

– Who should be allowed to visit and comment on the blog?

– How do we ensure student confidentiality when working online?

– And most importantly, how do we teach online safety to students?

The answers to these questions aren’t simple and, even where there is broad agreement about the issues involved, the answers don’t come in a simple ‘one-size fits all’ package.

Click here for an interesting discussion covering these questions about blogging and cyber safety.

Is blogging good for school children?

Blogs have tremendous educational potential.  They provide a communication space that teachers, children and parents can use to develop writing, share ideas and reflect on work being undertaken at school in any subject area.  They enable children to showcase their work and to receive feedback and encouragement from friends, family and fellow students.

What are blogs?
You are reading one.  Blogs are websites maintained by people to describe events or make commentary on news or subjects of interest.  Blogs are mostly made up of pieces of writing, called posts, written by the blog owner.  They may also contain images and video and usually have links to other blogs and web pages.

Do blogs threaten children’s privacy or safety?
Blogging on teacher-monitored blogs is a comparatively safe online activity, but since anyone can see a blog and anyone can post a comment on a blog, there is a risk that unwanted comments will be posted.  Usually comments don’t appear publicly on a blog until they are approved by the blog’s owner (this is the default setting for most blogs), so inappropriate comments will only be seen by the blog owner (child) and the teacher administrator.  School children should be taught about cyber bullying and all school blogs should be monitored to ensure appropriate behaviour.  It is rare to find anyone outside the school community posting on a school blog.  Children should not share personal details like their address or family photos.  Once a photo or video is posted on a blog it can be viewed and downloaded by anyone.