From Quagmire to (some) Clarity

The eFellows learning journey continues!

A fortnight ago I was struggling to write the first draft of my abstract for ULearn. I have written abstracts for conference (research) papers before. And it would be fair to say I pretty much hate the practice. In Design Thinking terms, how on earth can I talk about where I’ve got to while I’m still in the immersion stage? And ‘immersion’ would be a very polite term for how I was feeling. Stuck in the mud of seemingly disparate ideas. Floundering to find footing. Lost.

I managed to bang something out (but you know you’re in despair when you start doing word counts on the eFellows14 abstracts to compare to your own) and was actually reasonably happy with it. Then it came time to firm the abstract up for submission. Cue wheels well and truly falling off.

It was time for desperate measures. I took myself off to one of the ‘phone boxes’ in the CORE Education Wellington office. I remained standing and looked hard at the messy ideas I had.

The two ideas that have really stopped me in my tracks during this learning journey have been:

  1. Design Thinking as play, and the role of play-based learning for adults. (Which has lead me onto a tangent as to what constitutes effective professional learning, and exploring the perceived differences between pedagogy and andragogy.)
  2. How the goal of disrupting teachers’ preconceived ideas about their practice conflicts with being respectful. This has lead me to re-evaluate my Design Thinking pedagogy and shift my personal emphasis from ‘bias towards action’ to ’empathy’.

And then – how on earth to mesh all this together with my original inquiry question of: How I might employ design thinking principles to invigorate teachers’ professional learning in order to nurture critical and creative citizens?

<Insert scream here.>

Luckily, as always, our amazing mentor Louise Taylor, had handed me the key by way of introducing us to the phrase: Disrupt with Humility.

<Insert angels’ choir and clouds parting here.>

Suddenly, on a square of blue note paper, it all fell together. My Design Thinking principles have shifted to put empathy at the centre. This allows me to work in a respectful way aligned with my personal morals and values. I can disrupt, but with humility. And for me, often times, this incorporates the element of play and fun. Design Thinking as a process aligns with this as it’s all about opening up conversations, being human-centred and creative; playing with ideas. When we’re having fun, even if it’s hard fun, we are engaged and motivated. In turn, hopefully, this prompts us to trial new things in our teaching context, and hence take action.

GetAttachment

So, in case you’re interested, my abstract is complete and submitted, and here it is:

Feed the Hungry: Applying Design Thinking Principles to Invigorate Teachers’ Professional Learning

In this presentation I will share some insights into my research as part of my 2015 CORE Education eFellowship where I have wondered about how my design thinking pedagogy might invigorate teachers’ professional learning.

Passionate about future-focused education and the role design thinking might play in this, I have moved from being a classroom English teacher and future learning facilitator, to being the Postgraduate Programme Director (Wellington) of the Postgraduate Certificate in Applied Practice (Digital and Collaborative Learning) offered by The Mind Lab by Unitec.

Using a qualitative approach, I have listened to the stories of teachers currently completing the postgraduate certificate, as well as reflecting deeply on my own practice. I have found myself

wrestling with the idea of ‘disruption’, concluding that before we can disrupt educators’ mindsets we must first engender respect. Thus I will offer those with an interest in design thinking a different context in which to consider its power, and offer those embarking on their own professional learning inquiries, or designing professional learning for others, some food for the journey.

Delegates will:

  • Hear new research around design thinking mindsets and professional learning.
  • Be challenged to consider the centrality of empathy and respectful practice.
  • Be inspired to disrupt with humility.

You’re all cordially invited to attend if you’re at ULearn this year. I can’t promise I’ll stick to this plan as there may well be further disruptions to my learning journey ahead, but, for now, I’ll enjoy a moment of clarity.

He aha te mea nui o te ao?

He aha te mea nui o te ao? 
He tangata! He tangata! He tangata!

What is the most important thing in the world? 
It is people! It is people! It is people!

 Reflecting on my ULearn14 experience, for me the overarching theme of this year’s conference was relationships. Everyone is a learner – teacher and student alike – and all learners should be at the heart of what we do. I could see this message coming through from every speaker I heard:

  • Yoram Harpaz’s keynote argued for three ‘meta-ideologies’ in education. I align myself mostly with ‘individuation’ – the fostering of autonomy and honouring the authenticity of the child.
  • Mark Osbourne’s breakout highlighted to me the learning that teachers can experience in a MLE (Modern Learning Environment) is as powerful as the learning the students can experience.
  • Tom Barrett’s breakout on design thinking: curiosity is the start of everything; it’s about questioning the world
  • Adam Lefstein’s keynote on teacher professional discourse and learning: the kinds of conversations we have as professionals can help or hinder our practice
  • Katie Novak’s UDL keynote: when we host a dinner party, we serve the food we love to eat. In what way do we address others’ dietary needs? We certainly don’t try to fix the diners’ problems; we cater accordingly. This is what UDL asks us to do for our learners.
  • Derek Wenmoth’s breakout: MLP (Modern Learning Practice) requires rethinking content, learners, teaching, learning – we need to be adaptable and flexible
  • Jo Wilson’s breakout: Professional Learning programmes should allow staff to grow into the roles they seek, allow them to be great leaders.
  • Steve Mouldey’s breakout: creativity enables you to create change in the world around you.
  • Quinn Norton’s keynote asked: What’s the MacGuffin of our generation? We probably won’t know until we’re scrambling to catch up, so learning to build relationships is an important future-proofing skill.

I also enjoyed the opportunity to present at ULearn on the staff professional learning I co-lead in my school. Although it was a small (but perfectly formed!) group, it was a satisfying experience. Tuning into myself as we were speaking, I realised how much staff had moved in their skills and that there is a growing appreciation and awareness for the need to embrace future-focused pedagogy. (Presentation here)

Oh, and I got named as a CORE eFellow for 2015. What an amazing, humbling and gratifying moment. I only hope I can do the opportunity justice. I so look forward to the learning to come, and the relationships to be forged with the other eFellows.

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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.

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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

A Panegyric: Twitter is not ‘just’ for stalking celebrities.

I love Twitter.  There.  I’ve said it.  Judge all you like – but it is one of those things I’ve become a raving lunatic zealot about.

This is a relatively new state of being.  I’ve actually had my Twitter account (@AKeenReader – ahem – follow me!) for a while, and only followed literary types and all things Shakespeare.  I rarely tweeted, mostly retweeting the amazing comments and discoveries others made.  Last year, I used it extensively to find up-to-date resources to share with colleagues and students – again, solely of the literature variety.

Then I went to ULearn (yup, sorry, that again) and still wondered why every presenter told you their Twitter handle.  Were these people that desperate for followers?  “O brave new world that has such people in it” – do we now count our worth based on our follower total?!

Ah, the naivety of the ignorant.

Looking back (a whopping three months), I’m not quite sure when or how the change came into being.  I guess it was one of those tipping point things.  I did keep an eye on the ULearn13 hashtag.  I did start to follow some of the presenters I heard (shout out to @virtuallykaren and @ClaireAmosNZ).  I started blogging, and came across some other blogs I really found interesting (thanks @GeoMouldey and @tomwhitby and @grantwiggins).  And then, I found #edchat.

#Edchat is, exactly as it sounds, a Twitter chat about education.  It is run out of the US, but is an open forum, moderated by educators on a democratically chosen topic.  It runs in real time, everyone contributing, but of course in 140 characters at a go.  Even better (sorry #edchat) there’s a NZ version aptly named #edchatNZ (hosted by @MissDSciTeacher).

Now, none of this really tells you why (or even how – for that, I strongly recommend Edudemic, and this blog post by Joann Fox is awesome too – I won’t cover that here) you should be on Twitter.  So, here it comes.

Got a passion?  Need to find an up-to-the-minute resource?  Want to connect with other learners/educators?  Want to collaborate on a project?  Want to pose a question?  Want inspiration?  Twitter is the place for you.  Rarely is it that I check my Twitter feed (which, yes, my husband will tell you I do obsessively) and don’t find something quirky or thought-provoking or motivational.

I love Twitter and you should too.

Sailing Uncharted Seas

Hmmm perhaps this should have been my very first blog post, but better late than never, right?!  I thought I’d just share a little bit of my journey – how I got to be in this metaphorical boat, sailing uncharted seas where the maps available may only warn ‘here be dragons’.

In a former life (i.e. last term ;)) I was HOD English.  Now that was the ultimate goal for me in becoming a teacher.  I wanted to teach English (mostly Shakespeare) and I wanted to be the Head of an English department.  Mission accomplished.  Happiness to follow?  Not necessarily…

It was when I found myself actively applying for non-teaching jobs (a massive wrench for someone who always wanted to teach) that I realised something just wasn’t adding up.  While still applying for jobs, I started listening to myself.  What messages was I relaying about my days at work?  I always had a funny or warm anecdote about something that happened in class.  I really like my colleagues.  I really didn’t find satisfying the constant war on how best to spend my time.  The hierarchy went: stuff with parents; stuff that affected colleagues; senior marking; junior marking; planning lessons; department strategic stuff.  Very rarely did that ranked list lead me to do the things that I felt would make a difference.  Something needed to change – but the teaching wasn’t actually it.

In amongst this, it was announced that the school was going BYOD.  Even me, with a severely limited understanding of what this meant in real terms, could see that this required a massive shift.  What was the school doing about this (in case I don’t make this point later on – behind the scenes there was lots of really good thinking going on, I was just unaware of it at the time) to prepare staff?

I could spy an opportunity.  Land ahoy?!  I presented myself as a ‘willing skeptic’ – I could write a blog, and present some ideas to staff about how to teach ‘BYOD’.  I had some ideas about the 3Cs of creativity, communication and critical thinking.  I convinced the principal.  Job mine.  Go to ULearn.

Bam!  I was suddenly adrift on an ocean of amazing ideas and opportunities – uncharted yes, but exciting in its very openness.  Overnight (OK over the three days of the conference) I was converted – no longer ‘willing skeptic’ (how I cringe – who would go for that idea anyway?!) but raving zealot!

So, no longer HOD English, but Future Learning Leader.  The seas remain uncharted, but the way forward is becoming less mirage-like.  I will co-lead staff learning around the WHY of e-learning/BYOD with a strong emphasis on future learning principles and strategies.  I will not jump up with a new app every day.  I will work alongside departments to follow through an inquiry process into what they’re interested, and what might work technology-wise to support student needs for them as 21st century citizens.

I am no expert.  I am but a learner, and hopefully we can all work together to learn more.  Lifejacket anyone?

#Ulearn13 Reflection | Four ideas in evolution

A presenter’s reflection on ULearn, with interesting reflections on her views of the key themes of the conference.  (And you can spot me in the video clip too!)

karen spencer

The #ULearn13  conference last week, for me, was a blur of workshops [check out the end of this post for the full list of my resources] and working with the Social Media team in CORE to blend, integrate and support teachers to look at connecting their practice.

I would have dearly loved to have got along to more of the sessions but, even so, I had plenty of kōrero with an amazing bunch of educators across NZ. Highlights for me were undoubtedly the connections with people:  CORE eFellows ’13, the bandwagon-busting showcase taster from Nat Torkington and the keynotes from Mark Pesce [Google doc] and Dame Anne Salmond – meaty, crunchy, wide in scope, refocusing on the guts of what education is for.

Four ideas in evolution

Having been part of several of these conferences – and blogged about their usefulness as part of…

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Universal Design for Learning

This is another concept which I need to spend more time thinking about – particularly: how does it relate to future learning principles?  However, I definitely agree with the idea of universal design for learning – that students should be able to show their understanding in a way that best suits them.  The principles of UDL seem to be around making knowledge accessible, and making the assessment fit the learning.  I think English as a subject is particularly well placed to do this – we might have more freedom in an English classroom to allow students to present in writing, orally, or visually.  This way we can assess both content knowledge and production skills.  Success criteria therefore need to be flexible, or perhaps even co-constructed with students.

I do think that there is a challenge (albeit not an insurmountable one) to balance the concept of universal design for learning against the demands of meeting NCEA assessment criteria.  Something we’re looking to try at Whitby next year is to focus on teaching key skills in the first half of the year, putting aside various pieces of student work as they go.  Then, in the second half of the year, these pieces can be crafted into items for assessment, playing to the strengths students have exhibited.  It will be interesting to monitor how this approach works towards meeting the needs of students.

As I came to appreciate at ULearn, and as this YouTube clip makes clear, it is about opening doorways for students – and technology has the power to do the same.  Technology can be used to make knowledge accessible to students, and it can be used to help students show their understanding in a way that best suits them.  The New Zealand Curriculum talks about ‘diversity’, and some of the reading I’ve started to do unpacks this idea to not just be about catering to students from diverse backgrounds, and not just a diversity of learning styles, as UDL can do, but it’s also about coping with and managing a diversity of ideas.  In this way technology can be both a boon and a burden.  Perhaps this is also where TPACK and careful, clever learning design comes into play – providing a specific context but flexible success criteria so that students don’t flounder and lose their way.

Today I gave my Year 8 students an independent reading assignment.  Within reason, they can choose their own fiction book to complete the assignment on, and while I have given them a range of activities and questions to complete in relation to their chosen text, I have set them the challenge of finding a creative and original way to present their final product.  They can complete it in their exercise book, as a poster, as a blog, as a podcast, as a YouTube video…it’s up to them.  The girls have embraced the idea and are hugely enthusiastic.  And while, yes, it will be interesting to see the final products, at least it has them excited about learning, and they feel they can attack the task.  And perhaps that’s a real benefit of trialling something like universal design for learning.

ULearn

Oops – a quick post about ULearn – this is a conference I attended 9-11th October, 2013 in Hamilton.   It is a conference about using technology to enhance teaching practice and student outcomes.  There is a huge variety of workshops to attend, and inspiring keynote speakers to listen to.  This year the keynote speakers were: Kenneth SheltonMark Pesce (I have a link to his very interesting website ‘The Next Billion Seconds’ on my ‘Useful Links’ page) and Dame Anne Salmond.

It is no small feat to claim that I found the conference inspirational, and really significantly for me, re-energised my passion for teaching.  I love the emphasis that thinking about e-learning and future learning principles places on my teaching practice and pedagogy.  Before now I have been very critical of education as an academic pursuit, but now feel like reading some research!

If nothing else, I have these two fab sayings to take away:

“Feed the hungry; don’t water the stones.”  (And, for the record, I’m famished!)

And Ghandi’s, “Be the change you wish to see in the world” (ahem, even if he didn’t quite say it like that…)

ULearn 2013 Reflections

Day One:

Love Claire Amos’ talk – e-learning facilitator (actually future learning facilitator) is the role I want to carve for myself at Marsden. I also liked the questions posed by Mary Anne Mills.

Starting places – articulating the essence of Marsden vision to measure possible strategies against, e.g. 3 Cs: communication, creativity, critical thinking
Read, read, and read some more.  Follow up on links, surf web, watch TED talks.
Nut out teaching as inquiry – what do I actually want to achieve in a classroom next year?
Need to realise/keep in mind my context.  Some teachers reluctant. Work on this level.  Can’t expect immediate and whole-hearted buy in.
Lead from the front – model the processes I believe in:
  • Teaching as inquiry
  • NZC – effective pedagogy
  • Future learning principles
Model my own teacher inquiry process. Blog and regular sharing. Don’t bombard with a gazillion websites/tools. Keep reinforcing key principles.  Link to Marsden context and NZC.
If technology is just a tool to help us achieve future learning goals, then be sure to offer strategies that aren’t technology related! Possibly build on techniques that we already/currently use.
Survey staff mid-year to gauge understanding of future learning principles.  Must be able to articulate why the need to shift.  Keep a running record of requests – play with making videos/flipped learning to start to build library of ‘go to’ tools.  Students could also help create these.
Could make videos of cool things already happening in classrooms at Marsden, eg flipped learning.  Make experts of others. Find out what colleagues are doing and highlight this.
Survey students – what do they want their learning to be like? If they could change one thing in the classroom to help them learn better, what would it be? Where do we go right? Where do we go wrong? What are the skills we think we are teaching our students, and what skills do they think they’re learning? If there is a disconnect, why is this so? How can we change that?
Very fun stuff to think about.
Ultimately about being a better teacher and therefore achieving better outcomes for our students.  This is why we went into teaching in the first place.  Love it.
CORE education eFellows?
How can I get on an educational tour?
To do some reading/thinking/learning about collaboration – lots about this at ULearn.

Day Two:

Themes I picked up on today:

  • Have a vision and stick to it
  • Be able to clearly articulate WHY the need for change
  • Feed the hungry, don’t water the stones
  • People need willingness and readiness to change
  • Inspiration from Ghandi: ‘be the change you want to see’
  • Really clear that change must be driven from the top, or at least with significant and positive support from the top. This must be tangibly realised in the form of time and money, e.g. PLD. We must build inquiry model into teacher appraisal.
To think about further:
  • Concept of connectivity and collaboration – implications for students and the classroom.  What do we already do that helps promote collaboration? Group work, literacy circles…how can technology help us do this further? Implications for assessment too.
  • Interweaving future focused learning and NCEA. Choice, asking students what they want to learn, which texts to study from this range that I have knowledge of?
  • Innovations around timetabling and spaces
  • New Marsden arts centre as a future focused space

Day Three:

Session with Karen Melhuish Spencer

  • Lots of sites to check out, but priorities are: joining the virtual learning website, and checking out the elearning framework. Also would like to find and read the 2012 research she referred to.
  • She offered to have a coffee sometime – a great network contact to have, who knows the Marsden context.
  • Smart suggestion – what opportunities does the ‘new’ creativity centre off us as a future learning space? Embarrassingly, hadn’t even considered it myself!
  • Activity to try: Flickr visual concept.
  • Linking IT and SOLO
  • In summary, she really emphasised the same threads of the conference – knowing why you’re doing something, it’s about learning design to meet student needs, not about the “shiny things”.