Woods, trees and on ramps

Sometimes, the more time I spend with something, the more I seem to lose my way with it. This is what seems to have happened to me in the past few months. I have apparently lost my ability to articulate the “why” of embedding digital technologies for learning. And this is a bit of a problem.

CC BY 3.0

So, in order to find my way through this inability to see the wood for the trees situation, perhaps it’s more useful to think about what I do know.

I do know I’m not a ‘techie’. In fact, I’m constantly embarrassed by my low-tech skills. I rarely know the new, cool apps, and while these can be fun, aren’t really what ignites a passion for education and learning in me.

I do know that technology in and of itself won’t make a difference to learning. Equally, the same can be said, I believe, of an exercise book, or even a teacher. Plonk these things in a classroom and there will be no discernible effect. Like any tool, it’s what we do with it that counts.

I do know that relationships and emotions make a difference to teaching and learning. Mostly  based on my own experience of being a student, as well as fifteen years in the classroom, but also because the OECD tells me so:

“Emotion and cognition operate seamlessly in the brain to guide learning….Any debate about whether learning institutions should be concerned about learners’ emotions and their development is…irrelevant” (“Nature of Learning”, OECD, p. 4)

I do know that there is, rightly, in my opinion, an increasingly loud call for learner-centred education. There are many facets to this argument. One is an egalitarian one – that it is simply not acceptable that our schooling system works for some, but not for others. Another is that a knowledge economy requires that everyone be lifelong learners. Without the skills to learn how to learn, the motivation or interest to do so, then we run the risk of perpetuating an out-of-date, industrial model. A further argument is a learning sciences one. This links to the statement above about the role of emotions, as well as showing that learning collaboratively, learning deeply, and learning connected knowledge is key. (See “21st Century Learning: Research, Innovation and Policy”, CERI) And maybe another is just a ‘gut feeling’ one. We are all different, with different backgrounds, interests and needs. One size just doesn’t fit all, nor should it, and increasingly we have the ability to meet these diverse needs.

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Maybe this is my “why”. Because digital technologies can offer significant ‘on ramps’ to this desired pathway of learner-centred education.

Again, from the OECD report “The Nature of Learning”, we know that the learning sciences suggest that the following are the fundamental conditions under which successful learning can occur:


  • “Constructive, self-regulated learning is fostered
  • The learning is sensitive to context”
  • It is often “collaborative” (p. 3)

And they list six “building blocks for innovative learning environments”:

  • Cooperative learning
  • Service learning
  • Home-school partnerships
  • Formative assessment
  • Inquiry-based approaches
  • Learning with technology (p. 10)

Learning with technology: “Learner-centred approaches to technology-enabled learning can empower learners and leverage good learning experiences that would not otherwise have been possible. Technology also often offers valuable tools for other building blocks in effective learning environments, including personalisation, cooperative learning, managing formative assessment, and many inquiry-based methods.” (p. 10)

This first sentence about learner-centred approaches has definite echoes of the New Zealand Curriculum to me: “Schools should explore not only how ICT can supplement traditional ways of teaching but also how it can open up new and different ways of learning.” (Emphasis mine in both cases.)

This call is similarly repeated in the e-Learning Planning Framework, where learning and teaching should work towards “Student-centred, authentic, higher-order, collaborative learning, and digital literacy, is enhanced by ubiquitous digital technologies.”

So here’s my own list. Technology is not THE solution, but A solution. An on ramp to learner-centred education. Technology offers us ways to:

  • Access information and people
  • Collaborate
  • Bring the world to the classroom – to be connected to the global community
  • Self-manage and reflect on our learning
  • Ensure learning is engaging, authentic, purposeful
  • Learn ubiquitously: anywhere, anytime

And I’m picking this is a good thing.

What happened to the “e” in “eFellow”?

Ah, CORE Education’s eFellowship. The best professional learning experience you can possibly enjoy. I’m wallowing in the challenge, and am grateful beyond words for the opportunity to work alongside such inspirational educators and mentors. And I’ve been wondering: what happened to the ‘e’ in eFellows?

If you look back over previous eFellowship inquiries, there has been a strong bias towards projects that researched the integration of technology to enhance learning. This year though, not so much. Possibly the best fit with the ‘e’ is Richard Wells who has a wonderful inquiry in process looking at social media and connecting previously unconnected educators. However the rest of the projects are as fabulously diverse as their researchers. Is this lack of ‘e’ a problem?

Obviously I can’t speak for the CORE Education Charitable Trust who, extremely generously, funds the eFellowship programme, but I don’t personally think so. To me, it’s a bit like the argument I put forth here, that the ‘e’ is essentially now redundant. For innovative, future-focused (and yes, I realise the irony of saying that) educators, the ‘e’ is a given. Maybe what I’m saying is actually echoed in the fourth of CORE’s Ten Trends: Digital Convergence: “The concept of digital convergence refers to the merging of previously discrete and separately used technologies, as well as the almost ‘invisible’ integration and use of technologies as a part of our everyday life.”  

Because, for many of us eFellows, we simply wouldn’t be able to carry out as effective a research inquiry without the ‘e’ tools we’re employing. I’m thinking of Vivita’s use of AR in supporting her deaf learners, of Steve’s international research into design thinking – reaching out to Australia and the US. And even me, using tools like Teachmeet, Padlet and Google Forms to gain feedback from my teachers. The technology enhances our research and is intertwined with what we do. The ‘e’ is ubiquitous.

However, I wouldn’t want the ‘e’ to be dropped from the title. I think it is still crucial to keep being ‘e’ focused. It foregrounds the way the eFellows work, both in terms of conducting their own inquiries, and also with our mentors in between hui. It is also an important point of difference to other fellowship programmes. Perhaps what I’m trying to say is that it’s a measure of success for the CORE Education eFellowship because now the ‘e’ just is.

Image credit

Happy Anniversary

This is a short blog post I wrote for Tom Whitby, of #edchat fame, on the ‘aha’ moment of becoming a connected educator.

It was posted last week on Edutopia, and I cross-post it here:

“The mind, once stretched by a new idea, never returns to its original dimensions.”

  • Ralph Waldo Emerson

It strikes me as utterly appropriate to reflect on my journey from an unconnected educator to a connected educator at this time, as it’s nearing a year since I had my ‘eureka’ moment.

Last October, I attended ULearn, a massive (by New Zealand standards) conference, which draws together educators from all sectors to explore e-Learning trends and themes. I was so excited by what I learned there: it made such sense to me that we shouldn’t get hung up with the shiny tools of technology if pedagogy isn’t shifting to support a new, and more meaningful, way of teaching and learning.

And I wanted to learn more.

I had had a Twitter account, but started following the presenters I had heard at the conference. I decided to start a blog to help me record and process what I learned. I quickly realised that the way educators use Twitter, to connect and share, was extremely powerful. Through this I found blogs to follow, readings to explore, new ideas to wrestle with.

And I was hooked.

I haven’t looked back. Not only has my classroom practice changed, but my whole view of my profession has changed. I am passionate about education in a way that I simply wasn’t before. Sure, I wanted to convey my love of literature and the power and beauty of language to students, but now I want learners to think and to be engaged. Now I facilitate professional learning into future-focused pedagogy in my school. Now I’m the secretary for #edchatNZ and I helped organise their first conference. Now I’m planning to run an edcamp in my city. Now I’m a connected educator.

My mind is stretched.


Pick Me!

This post is my application for a 2015 CORE eFellowship.

#edchatNZ steering committee. L-R: Heather Eccles, Sonya van Schaijik, me, Matt Nicoll, Alyx Gillett, Danielle Myburgh, Mel Moore
#edchatNZ steering committee. L-R: Heather Eccles, Sonya van Schaijik, me, Matt Nicoll, Alyx Gillett, Danielle Myburgh, Mel Moore

My application presentation can be found here.

My Twitter profile
My Twitter profile
The kind words of Steve Mouldey
The kind words of Steve Mouldey

My ‘Thing’

Since I began this future learning journey, I’ve been wondering what my ‘thing’ is. What would be the particular aspect of future learning that would really capture my imagination, and seem to offer the best possibilities to move forward with future focused pedagogy? It was never going to be just about integrating technology. Jumping on the bandwagon of the shiny new app strikes me as both short-sighted and not big picture enough. I wondered if PBL (project- or problem-based learning) might be the thing. But as interesting as it seemed, it didn’t seem to gain traction in my mind. Ditto SOLE (self-organised learning environments). Linked to both of these was the inquiry process. And I do think this is important, but didn’t seem to go quite far enough for me. It wasn’t going to be maker-ed, although I acknowledge the potential in this.

And then, today, it hit me.

Design Thinking might just be my thing.

Why Design Thinking? Because inherent in this process are the 3 (or 4) Cs of critical thinking, creativity, communication – and collaboration. Because the process requires an inter-disciplinary approach. Because, as the Hobsonville Point team have convinced me, the New Zealand Curriculum aligns beautifully with it. Because it seems to offer the best of what PBL/inquiry/maker-ed calls for. And because I believe it has the potential to dovetail with the values of our school, such as aiming for the highest, service, resilience.

And, crucially, because Design Thinking fits with me.

I’ve always held that I teach because I want to teach not what to think, but how to think. And I believed that English as a subject really had this potential. We read literature in order to be confronted with ideas of what it means to be human. To think about moral, ethics, how to live. But, upon reflection, I think I haven’t really aligned well with my educational philosophy. I have been teaching ‘not what to think’, but not the ‘how to think’ part of the statement. I feel it’s been more like ‘not what to think; but to think’. Which, I now think, is insufficient. However, Design Thinking does offer a concrete solution because it is a process. It is ‘not what to think; but how to think.’

So, I think, I’ve found ‘my thing’.



And #edSMAC was born…

My most retweeted tweet is a photograph of a quote from Kristen Swanson’s book Professional Learning in the Digital Age. The quote says:

“I wondered why somebody didn’t do something.

Then I realised, I am somebody.”

– Unknown

I think this captures Claire Amos’ challenge to New Zealand educators to ‘hack their classroom’ this term. I’ve written about accepting this challenge in my 100 Days of Learning log, but I thought it might be more useful to contain all the thoughts together in one ‘proper’ blogpost. So here it is.

I have an ambitious job description. I, along with my wonderful senior manager, have been charged with leading staff into adopting future focused pedagogy. We have gone BYOD with our seniors, and the rest of the school will follow soon. As I’ve outlined previously, to help us in this task staff have been given their own devices from the Board, and we have every staff meeting devoted to professional learning in this area.

When we surveyed staff at the end of last term, the results were pretty positive. The summary is below:PL Survery T1 Q1

PL Survey T1 Q2

PL Survey T1 Q3

PL Survey T1 Q4

(4 is high, 1 is low!)

However, the final graph is, as you can see, a little different. Staff are yet to feel that there is much discernible impact on their classroom pedagogy as a result of the professional learning we have been doing.

My reaction to this is often to swing between ‘it’s early days’ and despair. Which is why I enjoyed Anne Knock’s blogpost so much this week. And especially this graph:

slide1because it makes sense to me that we’re still in a ‘building knowledge’ phase. Mindsets (from ‘fixed’ to ‘growth’ – see Claire Amos again for a great explanation) are shifting for some, but I think that’s still a significant minority at best. So, how to get more staff on board, to realise the potential that future focused pedagogy offers?

Build a PLN.

Niftily, this was the theme of this week’s professional learning. And thus the jump in point for my “hack buddy” Matt Nicoll and I. We decided to hack Claire’s #hackyrclass challenge to a #hackyrstaffroom one! We want to be agents of change.

The plan in progress over this week and next is to connect with a small group of our staff who are interested in building their own professional/personalised learning network. Because we can do this from two schools, we can automatically offer each ‘team’ a ready-made PLN. We are using the hashtag #edSMAC (Samuel Marden Collegiate School, SAndrew’s College) to connect on Twitter.

We’re also surveying the staff to find out what they want from the ‘build your PLN’ project so that we can personalise links, tips and suggestions for what they are wanting.

The theory behind all of this is that if staff can be convinced to look outside their own four walls of their classroom, staffroom, and school, they will be exposed to new ideas that will spark an interest. An ‘ooh, I could try that’ moment. This has the potential to snowball and then – hey presto – a revolution is formed! Not just one individual teacher to hack their class, but a group to hack multiple classes.

Change is hard. But not changing? That’s ultimately harder.

One size fits all fits…nobody?

Photo credit: Stephan van Es

We’ve run three Professional Learning sessions so far at Marsden. And, considering that there’s only 12 sessions in total, that’s actually a significant proportion. So, how’s it going?

Anecdotally, the feedback seems to be positive. We’re in the process of crafting a survey for the final session of the term, which should give us some more ‘concrete’ data from which to ascertain reactions. But overall, I would say I was feeling fairly positive, given the scope of the task in front of us. The school is, by and large, a fairly traditional one. Our students gain excellent results, which, in my opinion, makes it harder to convince staff that there is a pressing need to change our pedagogy and embrace the potentialities of e-learning. I think it would also be fair to say that, by and large, staff are reticent to explore technology. We have had our Learning Management System (LMS) for three years now, and staff turnover considered, there are still some teachers who don’t know how to set up their own class page. The professional learning sessions are presented to pre-school, primary school, co-ed secondary school and single-sex girls’ secondary school staff. So the fact that there are staff who admit they need to ‘get on board’, and there are staff who are starting to get excited about what’s out there, is good.

And then there are the staff who feel that it’s all a waste of their time as they already have sufficient technological know-how.

I find this criticism both useful and fascinating. Firstly, I’m very pleased that there are already educators in the school who have glimpsed what is possible and who want to learn more about pedagogy, because they feel comfortable in going away to play with tools themselves. At the same time though, the idea that the sessions being offered don’t cater to them doesn’t sit so well with me.

Perhaps what we’re seeing is this: an implementation dip (thanks to @GeoMouldey via @mosborne01 and @mcleod). Staff were initially intrigued and inspired by future learning, but then we hit mid-term, and the internal assessments have started, and the first wave of marking has come in, and we’re heading towards our first set of parent-teacher interviews, and, and … and, suddenly the time pressure is on and it all seems huge and scary and overwhelming.

I feel as though the model we’re following (20 minutes of big picture pedagogy and vision, 20 minutes of workshop – self-selected from at least 3 possible choices, 20 minutes of reflection) allows for a wide range of interests and skill levels to be catered for. We have actively encouraged staff to offer more workshops if they’re keen to do so. The presentations for the pedagogy and vision include loads of links for further exploration and learning. I’ve been tweeting (or, perhaps more accurately, re-tweeting) yet more links to useful and relevant sites and readings using the hashtag #MarsdenPL14. I actively promote #edchatnz Twitter chats and its blog.

This all sounds very defensive from my end, I guess. But I think it begs the question: at what point should learner educators be expected to take some responsibility for their own professional learning needs, and/or what more should we be doing to meet the needs of the learner educators in front of us?

Marsden Professional Learning Session 3

Today’s theme: Technology allows for personalised learning

I’m definitely becoming more comfortable with presenting to the whole staff. What I particularly liked about this presentation was that I considered modelling the less ‘teacher-directed’ or ‘direct-instruction’ and more ‘personalised’ approach. This meant outlining the concept of what personalised learning could incorporate; acknowledging that there is still a place and a need for some proportion of direct instruction; and showing how technology can allow learning to be personalised more readily. As always, the presentation includes numerous hyperlinks so that staff can go off and explore their own learning and interests themselves, but this time I specifically included a slide which catered for audio, visual and text-based preferred learning styles. In this way I was attempting to model one aspect of personalised learning.

A shout out to @GeoMouldey, @grantwiggins, @edutopia, @edudemic AND @coreeducation who provided me with content for this session!

I also ran a blogging workshop. I’m less sure how this was received – perhaps it would have been useful to find out what aspect of blogging teachers were interested in, as I referred to the possibility of having a class blog, a personal blog, a professional blog anf getting students to blog themselves all together! Hopefully my Blogging Workshop ‘help sheet’ is useful enough so that all those various possibilities are catered for…

(In addition to the list above, thanks to @mattynicoll too.)

In a slight aside reflection, looking at the rows of ‘@’s above – I must thank all the witting and unwitting members of my Professional Learning Network for keeping me up-to-date, informed and in-the-know!

Marsden Professional Learning Session 2

Future Learning Theme: Technology Allows for Different Kinds of Collaboration

Google Drive/Google Docs workshop

Today was our second-ever ‘Future Learning’ staff session.  As you can see, I initially presented on the overall theme of ‘collaboration’, and then co-ran a Google Docs/Google Drive workshop.

What I’m super-pleased with is that, contrary to the first session, I found this workshop far more successful, and indeed, even feel energised at its conclusion.  I think there are several contributing factors to this. Firstly, there were quite a few people in the workshop, so the desire to learn and participate was there. Having a co-presenter meant that there was more than one person who could help those who needed it. Also, having a very concrete ‘step-by-step’ help sheet (as attached) meant that people could work through at their own pace, with support from the presenters, or their peers around them. I think sometimes we need to remember to start off right at the beginning so that everyone can join us on the journey. If there are already experts, then they can go off and explore while the person to their immediate right is still looking for gmail on their browser.

The initial feedback from staff confirms that they were easily able to make connections between the workshop content and the future learning theme of collaboration, and that there seemed to be a real desire to explore the possibilities of Google Docs even further.  Hmmm … I hope they share their learning with me!

Action Plan – Leading Professional Learning

OK, so the ‘Action Plan’ category of my blog is looking pretty light…but I’m OK with that.  I’ve really been in an information gathering and big-time learning phase.  And while that certainly won’t diminish, I am at a point where I can commit myself to some concrete action!

The first (and potentially biggest – with regards to scale) is the co-leading of entire school professional learning around the ‘whys’ and some of the ‘hows’ of integrating technology into lessons in order to shift pedagogical practice.

My wonderful senior manager and I have formulated this fabulous overview:

Marsden Professional Learning Sessions 2014

Every staff meeting this year (great commitment from the school) will be based around a 20/20/20 model: 20 minutes (probably from me) on the big-picture idea of shifting pedagogy and why we should bother; 20 minutes spent in a self-selected, practical, hands-on workshop; and 20 minutes of reflection, for example updating a professional learning portfolio (commenting on those RTCs!).

I’m feeling very positive and excited about this learning plan.  I’m filled with hope 🙂