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The Networked Student and Stephen Heppell

November 19, 2009

I spent hours trying to build a presentation that would lead towards a discussion of the schools and students of the future (especially trying to work in connectivism and group and network theory) then I chat to Kim Cofino who is visiting our school and she says, have you heard about this video. 

And I also found this, Stephen Heppell talking an awful lot of sense.



What is the point of this space? An audit for my own blog.

November 15, 2009

Don Ledingham’s Learning Log, had the following questions to help people think about the role and purpose of their own blog. I liked the questions as they assume that a blog is about thinking so I thought I would attempt this reflection on my own attempts.

A Blog or a Learning Log?

When attempting to decide whether a blog is a learning log I’d suggest the following questions – if you can answer in the affirmative then it’s more likely to be a learning log:

1. Does the person reflect upon their own experiences?

I do but not as much as I should. I have stopped myself from publishing some draft posts that reflected on some of the difficult decisions and situations I have faced in my role as a coordinator. I called in an earlier post for open and honest debate, for people to use spaces like this to come put of hiding and respectfully explain their thinking. I need to do this more.

2. Does the person reflect upon their own effectiveness?

Not nearly enough. Linked to the first question but more important. Don clearly did this in his post “Do I add value?” Respect to him for publically reflecting on this. I cannot see how this wouldn’t help anyone who wants to think realistically about their own contribution to their work-place,  institution, community or society.

3. Does the person explore a range of issues connected to their learning focus?

I’ve tackled issues relating to my role but I’d like to do more. Again connected to 1 and 2, I have ideas about change and leadership that will be contentious within my institution but would be useful to communicate I think.

4. Does the person demonstrate a capacity to make use of others’ blogs/logs to enhance their own thinking?

Well this post is hitting the mark. Yes, I just wish I had more time to do this. I feel guilty that my son is watching the teletubbies next to me as I write this. I always try to acknowledge and engage with the people who have triggered my thinking. It is easy to ‘float’ on the internet without engaging with others. I am only starting to do this now, to make sure I comment on other people’s blogs and ideas and to link them to my own.

5. Does the person engage with those who comment on their Log?

I don’t think I have used this space reflectively enough to trigger others to comment. I hope that it will grow and I hope that as it does I will engage in debate more.

6. Does the person demonstrate a capacity to link back to previous posts to show progress in their thinking?

I need to write more to do this and I will, perhaps I will follow Stephen Downes’s thirty minutes a day rule. 

7. Does the person refer to research or other evidence to support their perspectives?

Pretty good on this and I agree that this is important. 

8. Does the person have a capacity to explore alternatives to current practice?

Sometimes too much perhaps. My job has, increasingly, become my hobby. As we move towards starting our own projects and learning spaces. I look forward to doing this more.

9. Does the person introduce readers to new resources?

New to me anyway.

10. Does the person demonstrate a shift in their thinking over a period of time which would indicate that learning is taking place?

As I mentioned in a previous post, unhinged by meddlers and tricksters, I found it unsettling to be as challenged as I was by some of thinking I have been doing around the CCk09 course I have been trying to keep up with. I think we have to be wary of simply assimilating new ideas into our existing thinking, to be only seeking those voices and thinkers that we think will add weight to ideas we are already comfortable with. A good question to periodically revisit. 

Right, need to take my son to the park before he turns into a teletubby. Apologies if you read this and there are mistakes, will edit soon…cc

Restless digital natives

November 7, 2009

“The technology itself is not transformative, it’s school, the pedagogy that is transformative” Tanya Byron

I am going to be hosting a discussion and giving a short presentation at my school’s ‘Bridging the Gap’ conference under the above heading. This blog post is where I am working out what I want to say. The research and thinkers I will refer to are linked through the post.

Dispensing with notions of the digital immigrant

I will pull on Ewan McIntosh’s reasons that digital native and digital immigrant are not especially useful terms as they put unnecessary and illogical barriers in our minds about learning and technology, especially, as he points out, that the last four years have seen the most rapid and transformative changes. Digital immersion does not equate with digital awareness, perhaps the opposite. I will refer to the Digital Youth Research: Kids Informal Learning with Digital Media) that encourage us to take a more nuanced view of the way children are engaging with technology.

Consciously unknowing

I am going to argue that we need to relax a little in the face of alarmist and hyperbolic proclamations about technological change. I will refer to the example of a music promoting acquaintance’s admission that he ‘had given up trying to keep up with where electronic music is at”. I will parallel this map of electronic music with this map of emerging collaborative technologies. His giving up was a creative breakthrough for him, he was just relaxing out of the anxiety that he needed to have a handle on the whole creative community to organise musical experiences. There is a lot to be learned from this, the rapid change message can be counter productive for those that are not already part of that change. In a more fluid and unpredictable environment we need to relax and go with the flow more while at the same time sharpen our capacities to be effective critical navigators of our own learning.

Time for a rethink of students’ digital spaces

With all of this in mind I will share some of the mistakes that I think I have made with technology in the classroom. Konrad Glogowski’s post called teaching how to learn, helped me further my own thinking that many of the things I have tried to do with blogging in the classroom have been pushing in the wrong direction. Our own learning hub in our school is worth pursuing but I have always had the feeling that while blogging software was right for school use, the term ‘blog’ sits uneasily with our needs, can a given space be a personal and owned space.

From this I will look forward and bring in the group’s ideas about some questions I am still working on. I will also hopefully have some student survey feedback to help our discussions.

I hope to have time to refer to the following:

Stephen Downes: Seven habits of connected people

Alan November’s 3 skills students need for the digital age

Howard Rheingold’s thoughts on the key skills we need

And finally a post on teacher learning from an educational technology enthusiast and presenter on teacher passions and their role in developing approaches to technology in education.

More information and notes on these sources to follow when I get the time…cc

Unhinged by meddlers and tricksters #CCK09

November 4, 2009

More links, examples and some coherence will be added to this but wanted to publish it for cathartic reasons. 

The reading and ideas that I have come to as a result of the connectivism course I am following have left me a little unhinged. As an educator who was drawn to Erica McWilliam’s depiction of teachers as ‘meddlers in the middle’ and also a fondness for Jim Garrison’s assertion that teachers are ‘prophetic tricksters’ that know how to ‘bend, break and redefine borders’*1 I should not be concerned that as a student I am at present swimming amongst ideas rather than finding them comfortably anchored and under my control.

Part of the issue is that the readings and forums that I have read have taken down different paths, some of them vaguely familiar but many of them new and uncomfortable. My thought process is pulled through hyperlinks quicker that it really wants to go but curiosity keeps me clicking, sometimes before I have fully reflected on each stage. For example one of Stephen Downes and George Seimens, the course leaders, major propositions is that constructivism does not sufficiently explain the process of learning. So I went back to Vygotsky and thought about his research, I got into the philosophical implications of his work and the challenges of Stephen Downes and was then provoked to re-visit what seemed to me a parallel intellectual path I had travelled when exploring literary and critical theory as an undergratuate, I wanted re-explore post-modernism but in the context of learning. I looked back to Nel Nodding’s “Philosophy of Education” and found in her section on postmodernism, (apologies for the long quote)

“Derrida’s plea to let others be is a call to abandon grand narratives. We can no longer assume that people can all be described by some overarching theory, that they all long for exactly the same goods, respect exactly the same virtues, or mean the same things when they use similar words. To make such assumptions is to be guilty of “totalizing” of summing up unique parts of human experience in one grand description that emphasizes similarity and  covers up difference…At this point, it should be made clear that an effort to force all children into the same course of study- however well intended the attempt-is, from the perspective of postmodernist, a totalizing move. It improperly (and unethically, Derrida would probably say) assimilates all children to the model of an elite established by crieria constructed by an excluisive few”.  p80 

So where I start to become re-hinged, where I start to make connections across the reading I have been doing, is around this debunking of grand narratives and the implications for education. Connectivism really grabbed me as a theory when George in his interview started talking about co-curriculum, started to pick apart the notion of a pre-designed curriculum, of the complicated puzzle that teachers make of learning to be solved, the closer the arrangement to their thinking, the better the student. I found surprising echoes of this postmodern approach to curriculum in Clayton Christensen’s book “Disrupting Class” when he calls for schools to “move away from from the monolithic instruction of batches of students toward a modular, student-centric approach”. Where Christensen and to some extent postmodernism leave me still grappling and where I need to delve deeper is in the role of groups and networks in learning. My next post will be on this key aspect of connectivism but I am a keen to also reflect on the theories managing change that I have been looking at.

The project, stage 1.

October 29, 2009

Picture 27My wife and I are in the early stages of what we are referring to as ‘the project’. Stage 1 of the project will involve the creation of a small business, but our longer term goal is to create and support a new type of educational organisation. We will be based in Ha Noi, my wife’s home town, but all aspects of our projects will have a virtual element.

Our starting point

To create interesting learning spaces both physical and virtual

To encourage and support innovation, communication, and creativity

Longer term goals

To create educational platforms that are accessible to all

To research and develop new ways of enabling individuals and groups to learn

The process

Stage 1 of the project involves me leaving my full-time job as a teacher and  curriculum coordinator in an international School and working on the project full time. This stage will involve the creation of an educational business that will provide a service we believe is needed in Ha Noi. We are also in the process of looking for ways to fund the research and development of our project. Our aim is for the different elements of the project to support each other but we would of course welcome the support of foundations or philanthropies who want to support innovation in education.

We welcome advice or comment from any interested parties.

Connectivism #CCK09

September 19, 2009

FactoryWhat follows is my first post as part of an on-line course called “Connectivism & connective knowledge” that I am going to try to keep up with over the next few weeks. The questions I am responding to are.

Does the concept (of connectivism) resonate with you? Why or why not? Are you learning through different methods than you did 5 or 10 years ago?

Connectivism, the notion that the act of connecting is the key to learning does resonate with me and I found the arguments within Richard Schwier’s interview with George Siemens on Connectivism persuasive and illuminating. I will return to the theoretical reasons for this in the future but I will start with the practical.

Late in the interview George talked about the misconception that we can know in advance what a learner needs to know, leading him to suggest a ‘participatory pedagogy’ is necessary, that we need curriculum crafted with learners, not courses delivered to them. The co-creation of curriculum, moving away from predesigned, one-size (even heavily elasticated) fits all approaches to teaching and learning is, I agree, the direction in which we need to move. Having grappled with the implications of a responsive and appropriate approach to curriculum design and am increasingly of the view that the only real way to achieve this is to throw all notions of a school in the conventional sense out, and start again.

Educational reform often has a pedagogical and curricular focus but the organisational structure of schools needs to be addressed if we want anything more than a superficial facelift of educational institutions. In the vast majority of countries and school systems students progress through schools in much the same way they have done since they were conceived. Constructivism helped to bring the individuality of the learner into education and push schools away from a factory model, but so much of what schools do still limits the possibility for real and authentic learning to take place. Of course, the reasons for this are as much related to pragmatism as they are to theoretical concerns. Societies need somewhere for children to be while the adults are working. However, as long as we go on placing groups of twenty to forty students of similar age into classrooms with one teacher for blocks of time that roughly add up to the equivalent of a working day then we will not see a significant shift in the effectiveness and appropriateness of our education systems.

There is a shift happening within education though that suggests that learning and potentially the structures that support it are about to finally evolve. The web is the tool that is starting to push learners into the higher order cognitive areas that Benjamin Bloom identified more than fifty years ago. This is not to say that teachers across the world will not spend an awful lot of time next week helping students remember and understand things and considerably less energy with them analysing, evaluating and creating things. However, as more and more of us devote time to discussing, writing and critiquing and the sheer readiness of knowledge reduces the temptation to think that just knowing something is enough, learning is changing.

Five years ago I read the odd journal and article about my profession, now I spend significant amounts of time every week discussing ideas I have found or been introduced to with my colleagues. This is partly due to the shift from being a classroom teacher to a curriculum coordinator and classroom teacher. I have taken small and intermittent steps at moving my on-line learning from reading and floating to participating and contributing. Tentatively I am moving into dialogue. This post, this blog is an attempt to do that, but my solatary comment shows that I am still in the early stages of that.

I suppose the extent to which my learning methods have changed in ‘on-line collaboration’ terms depends on whether this post provokes some dialogue rather than a still useful opportunity for me to organise my own thinking around topics I am interested in.

Our students’ digital spaces: From walled gardens to communal allotments.

April 23, 2009

allotmentHere are some of the ideas and related links that I am going to refer to in my presentation at the JASCD at YIS event on Saturday. 

I am going to talk about my Dad. Why? Well because the reason I first got to use technology was because of him. He taught me to respect computers, it is hard to think what we got so excited about now in our pre-web home computer days, but we did and it wasn’t just games, although it was mainly games for me, but not for him. He also, more importantly, is relevant to notions of digital nativeness. If this term relates to an instinctiveness around digital technology then he is far more native than me. He may only have two followers on twitter, but he can probably do more with it than I can and would definitely do a better job of explaining how it works. Ewan McIntosh writes in a more direct fashion about this topic in a post debunking myths about the connected generation. allotment-31

I am also going to talk about walled gardens and Shibuya. Why we don’t really need to distinguish so much between real and virtual dangers and responsibilities. Connected to this, I will use another horticultural analogy and talk about digital spaces that need to be nutured and tended much in the way that we were taught about plants at school by growing daffodils. I will  then return briefly to my father and talk about his failed attempts to teach me about more basic technology, namely engines and how to fix them.

allotment-22I will talk about register, language, text message language,  digispeak for example “MIR” and why although these school gardens need not have walls, they do need specific audiences to encourage rich, varied and self-conscious use of language. This aspect though is definitely a work in progress on our YIS student blogs

I will talk about digital fluency and the important of problem solving and critical thinking that technology is good at helping students uncover. 

I will then let my participants loose on the YIS English department blog amd hopefully they will write lots of comments on my students blogs and maybe even my own.

Hopefully there will be some discussion….cc


This is the motorbike I will refer to which helped me to finally learn how to fix things. The idea to put the St Andrew’s Crosses on the sides of this Belarusian Minsk 125cc motorcycle came from a Canadian of course, not that I was opposed to it. This process was all part of me taking real ownership and care of this vehicle. As far as I know the Irishman that bought the bike has kept the flags. This photo is taken at the sand dunes in south of Mui Ne in Southern Vietnam.

I will also refer to Erica McWilliam and her ideas about teachers as meddlers in the middle and unlearning.

More links I used.

Garr Reynolds: Zen presentation

Will Lion’s Images and slogans

Edublogs homepage

WordPress homepage

Digital tools map

Here are the slides I used.

View this document on Scribd