Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Tiny Twitter Tales - The stories I found in my follow list

Twitter's cool and everything, but you wouldn't think there would be much interesting about the list of people that you follow. The other day I found out that it's actually a pretty interesting record of some key events in the last few years of my life.
Follow Me, By Ozzy Delaney. CC BY 2.0
Recently, I was looking through the list of the 1700(ish) people that I follow on Twitter. As I scrolled, I started to notice some things. 

The first person that I followed on Twitter was Chris Betcher. I'm not 100% sure, but I think this came from an IWBNET conference that I attended way back in 2008. I won the place because I had taken part - and done well - in a department-led initiative aimed at giving teachers more ICT skills (I earned my Cert 2 through the course). Chris was one of the speakers at the conference an I must have followed him that day. I've been reading his blog and following his adventures ever since.
Funnily enough, Chris is also my first follower! We're only just now (sort of) doing a little bit of work together, which is probably why I find it interesting.

The next few people I followed were obviously connected to my growing interest in EdTech; but then there are a run of old high school friends. This tells me that I added them some time in 2008-2009, as we were organising our 20 year reunion at the time. 

After that, I have a run of entertainers and musicians that I followed. I'm a big Foo Fighters fan, and they toured here in 2008. Then there were all the maths educators that I followed after attending a maths conference in Perth in 2009.

In 2010 I moved into an ACT Government central office role, in the team I'm (back) working in. Twitter reminds me of that because I followed people that we were collaborating with at that time, like Stephen Heppell, Rob Fitzgerald and Chris Smith (as well as my boss!).

There's my first visit to EduTech, back in 2012. That was when I followed people like Alan November, Greg Whitby and Dan Haesler. Not long after that when George Couros visited and spent a day with us and a few teachers and leaders from ACT schools. I followed a few more of my colleagues then too. 

I can see my next couple of visits to EduTech; when I started getting really into Lego; and all the accounts I followed after I did my Sh'Bam training with Les Mills. I see academics and higher education accounts that I followed when I first started teaching at the University of Canberra. I can also see when my hubby and I went through a period of binge-watching Breaking Bad (I can tell because I followed Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul). There's a rush of Canberra-themed accounts from when I took part in Visit Canberra's Human Brochure campaign; and I can pinpoint the moment my journey with Google for Education began. 
Diary Writing by Fredrik Rubensson. CC BY SA 2.0
To you, this might look like a bunch of random and trivial events. But to a busy person like me, who moves from one thing to another without a lot of time to document anything, something that sparks a memory is an opportunity for me to reflect and remember. When I noticed these trends in my list, I also remembered the events that went with them; the people I knew then; the other things that were going on in my life. It's not as detailed as it might be if I'd kept a diary, and there's probably lots of stuff I don't remember, but it's still a nice little bit of reminiscing.

All this started with me looking for some specific accounts in my list, but it ended up being a pretty cool insight into the last 8 years of my life. What do you see when you look at your follow list? 

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Learning to Google

While I've been using various Google products for a number of years (including this fine blogging platform!), in recent times things have gotten serious!

Here in the ACT, Google Apps for Education has really taken off. There has been a lot of work behind the scenes to make sure it works well and won't upset anyone (and my colleague has been absolutely instrumental in that process), but now that it is up and running, the public schools here in Canberra are really going for it. Yay! I hope I'll be able to tell some of their stories some time.

Of course when I realised the potential that Google has to enable amazing teaching and learning experiences, I wanted to learn more. So I decided to do some training.
Now as I've already mentioned, I think that being able to find good Professional Development resources is an important skill. Luckily, with a product like Google, that's actually not difficult. Because I used the Google For Education Training Centre.

For me, the training centre provides the perfect kind of professional development. Well-constructed, thorough, self-paced and relevant. I worked my way through the two Educator training programs, and was really impressed with the way that the materials were constructed; but also the focus on quality teaching and learning with Google tools, not just the tools in isolation.

For example, one of the modules is all about YouTube. There are some great resources around finding, creating and sharing content to YouTube, but there are also lots of tips and tricks about the best ways to use video to engage students and make the learning mean something.

The Training Centre will help you find cool playlists like this one.

I also love that they've included other content that might not necessarily relate directly to the tools, like the Digital Citizenship module, or the exploration of different learning models like blended and flipped learning.

The other thing I like is the rigour. Everything is covered, and everything is tested. To 'pass' this training and receive certification, you have to pass a comprehensive exam. I'm not normally a big fan of exams or testing, but this one combines typical multiple-choice questions with specific scenarios that require you to actually demonstrate what you've learned about Google tools.

As someone that has despaired about the disconnect between ICT tools training and their value in the classroom, this training resource ticks all the boxes for me.

I guess I don't need to say that I passed. So now I'm a Google Certified Educator. I'm happy about that. Now on to the next level!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

21st Century Skills? What about teachers?

There's a lot of talk about the skills that students need to thrive in a digital world. In fact, I wrote about it in a recent post. But it's easy to say, especially if you're a super keen 'techie' like me, who isn't working in classrooms any more. It's probably harder for teachers.

So if children need certain skills, what skills do teachers need to make this actually possible? 
This question is one that I would really like to be able to answer. I've done a fair bit of reading on it already, but still don't know what the answer is. Plenty of people have tried: UNESCO developed an ICT Competency Framework, which talks about things like Technology Literacy and Knowledge Creation. And on a more local level, the National Professional Standards for Teachers deal with skills around the use of ICT resources, as well as safe and ethical online practices. But what does all that mean? And who's got time to fit all that in?

Given the value of ICT tools, and the impact that they have in schools when applied correctly, it's (arguably) pretty important to get everyone on board. I don't know if there's a right way, or even an easy way, but I think if all teachers had these capabilities and understandings, it might be a good start:
The Why 

I've seen it time and time again. Teachers and principals see a presentation about the value of ICT, or a really cool example of best practice. And suddenly they're super keen. They might not have all the skills yet, but they're keen to try. Not a bad start. The trouble is, most of the people I see at conferences etc are already on the bandwagon. We've just got to find a way to get these messages across to teachers. 

The How

This is not about technical skills. One thing I told my students all the time was that technology changes way too fast for us to be able to know everything. It makes even less sense for us to spend a heap of time learning one particular program or platform. Instead, we need to concentrate on developing our knowledge of how to use technology generally: how and where to find help (e.g. how-to videos; Lynda.com; Google!); how to ask for and accept help (even/especially from our students); how to transfer knowledge (basic ICT functions are the same across most platforms); and how to figure out what is the best ICT tool for the job we're doing.

The What

Yep, work out what tool will do the best job, but also know what's out there. I reckon that comes from keeping track of things. Through Professional Learning Networks (like the ones you'll find on Twitter); through following technology blogs and commentary (like the Horizon Report); through a little bit of regular trial and error; through checking in with what your kids/students are doing. 

I think concentrating on these three areas of development will do wonders. Now I've just got to work out how to help teachers understand that!

How do you and the teachers you know feel about technology? Do you think these capabilities would help?

Tuesday, June 30, 2015


My first Tweet:
Ironic, as this post is about how Twitter is more than a procrastination tool!

Having been on Twitter for quite a few years, I'm still amazed at 1: how many people don't use it; and 2: how many people don't understand it.

While I freely admit to being all over social media, and a voracious consumer of content on Facebook and Instagram particularly, Twitter is probably my most active platform in relation to education.

When I ask people 'are you on Twitter', I either get the "ain't nobody got time for that" response, or "I have no interest in seeing what Kim Kardashian had for lunch."
Of course, both are valid arguments, as Twitter can be a very powerful time-wasting tool (as with any type of social media), and there are a plethora of boring people posting idiotic and inane content.

But Twitter can be a very powerful educational tool as well. Here are a couple of examples:

Twitter as a search engine 

There are so many people on Twitter now that it can now produce a dramatic spread of ideas and perspectives. When teaching Digital Literacy, what better way than to show students how many different points of view there are?

Consider this. Put 'World War Two' into Google and you get some pretty standard results: Wikipedia, facts and statistics, related news stories. 

Put it into Twitter, and you get an amazing array of stories (from all sides), images, blog posts and a whole lot of interesting stuff that would help you explore the more human side. For example, from that search, here's a list of the '10 definitive songs from World War Two'. 

Twitter as a teacher resource/idea bank

Educators are one of the biggest groups of users on Twitter. So it makes sense that there would be some good sharing on there. Everything from lesson plans to multimedia to advice from experienced teachers (and inspiring thought leaders!). 

There are two simple ways to do it: You can follow the right people and check in with them regularly to see what they're doing (here's a Tweet about the SAMR model); Or you can use a hashtag to find specific material (here's what's in the #mathchat stream).

Of course, there are other great uses for Twitter: as a PLN, as a backchannel, as a discussion space, or even as a writing challenge.

If you don't know how to use Twitter, or you don't have an account, I suggest you give it a go. There are plenty of helpful resources out there to help you get started. Here are a couple to try (funnily enough, all found through Twitter!):

Are you using Twitter? How are you using it? 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

"Highly Educated Useless People"

The Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) have released a report that predicts big changes for the Australian workforce. Much of it deals with the impact of automation, emerging technologies and increased computing power (and affordability).

For those of us that work in the field of educational technology, this is not a new idea. Many of the smartest people I know have talked about this for years. I posted last year about Ian Jukes' keynote at the EduTech conference, where he talked about this very thing. Yong Zhao also has some great insights to offer about entrepreneurship and the need for change.

In their 2011 book, "Literacy is Not Enough: 21st Century Fluencies for the Digital Age", Andrew Churches, Lee Crockett and Ian Jukes talk about 'Highly Educated, Useless People', attributed to the minister for education in a 'high-profile' (but unnamed) country. These are the people that pass all their tests and do well at school and then graduate with no useful, real-world skills at all.

To me, this idea highlights one of main problems in education currently. When we focus on facts, testing and a one-size-fits-all approach, we are certainly producing the kind of people that would be good in factories or typing pools...
One of the Typing Pools by Scottish Government Under CC BY-NC 
...but not the kind of people that are going to be able to keep learning, be flexible,  create their own solutions, create employment opportunities, and create new ideas and industries (notice the key word here?). As highlighted in the CEDA report, these are the kinds of skills that people are going to need to be able to overcome the challenges presented by an automated, computerised workforce.

If the world is starting to realise the importance of innovation and creativity for a changed workforce, when will the education sector do the same? And what's the change that is necessary? What do we teach? What can we let go? I believe that we don't really need to teach facts and figures any more, Google's got that covered. But surely all people need at least some basic literacy and numeracy knowledge. And they need to know something about technology, given that it will be their direct competition in the workforce. But how much is essential content? Is there essential content? The CEDA report emphasises the need for schools to ensure they are "...instilling competencies rather than the retention of specific knowledge." (page 15).  Is this the right approach?

Or is it more about how we teach? Can we look at a more personalised approach that (alongside those 'essential skills') allows students to pursue areas of study that they are interested in? This will involve huge changes in teaching, school structure and policy; but if the information in the report is correct, these changes are absolutely necessary.

Robots by Justin Morgan Under CC BY SA 2.0
I'm aware that I'm a little broken-recordy in this, but I truly feel that we are doing students a disservice pushing them through a school system that is designed for another age. So this is my call to arms. If you're a teacher, you can change from within (I talked about that already). If you're not, make some noise. Because surely you don't want your children (or I guess we're looking at grandchildren now) to be useless people?

Monday, June 1, 2015

It's not actually about ICT...

For the past 18 months, I've been teaching a course called 'Learning with Technology' to pre-service teachers. There are many ideas that I have included in the course (quite possible too many for one semester!), but the big message that I hope they all get is that I'd really like to see a day when this course didn't have to exist at all.

You see, as soon as you start talking about ICT (technology) on its own, people immediately focus on the gadgets and the apps and the games and all those things. But what ICT should be is invisible.
Invisible MacBook Pro by Mark Norman Francis via Flickr (CC BY NC)
The first thing that you notice when you walk into a classroom shouldn't be the fancy iPads or Chromebooks or whatever, it should be the kids. Engaged. Motivated. Learning.
Sure, that seems to happen more often when ICT is used (and I will explore this in further posts), but the ICT is not the reason. It's just the tool. Good teaching, good planning and relevant content is more likely to be the reason.

I tell my students that they should always start with the learning. I like the questions that we used to use to frame our planning around the Quality Teaching Model (whatever happened to that?!):

  • What do you want the students to learn?
  • Why does that learning matter? 
  • What are you going to get the students to do (or produce)?
  • How well do you expect them to do it?
And shouldn't that be the question we're always asking? Not 'how will they use these iPads?'; or 'how could they use this game'? 

Something for us all to think about...

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

I can just copy, right?

Hands up if you've ever found an image on Google and used it in your assignment/resource/blog/etc?
Image by gaelx: https://www.flickr.com/photos/gaelx/6915188757
Used under a CC BY-SA 2.0 license.
Yep, that's probably every single one of us. Why not? It's a pretty easy thing to do, and no one will get hurt, right?
Well, it's highly likely that no one will actually get hurt, but what about the principle of the thing? If you created something that you were really proud of, then put it out there for other people to enjoy, would you be happy with anyone using it? Any time? For any purpose?

Increasingly, our lives are being digitised. We have this amazing access to a wonderful collection of digital products that we can download in an instant and share just as quickly. But the question is, should you? And more importantly, should your students?

For many of us, the digital world came upon us while we were already operating in an analogue space. We were used to making mixed tapes that would only be shared with us or our significant others, the posters that we made for class had clumsily photocopied pictures, pictures cut out of magazines (or old encyclopedias!) or even hand-drawn ones.They would be viewed by our teacher and maybe our class (and perhaps if we were really special, the principal or the assembly).

Then Google images came along (and all those other 'sharing tools'), and suddenly you could have access to all these cool pictures and stuff.

All this happened before anyone could come up with any rules for use, or ways to protect intellectual property. And hey, they still haven't.

But that doesn't make it right. In fact there are some pretty clear copyright guidelines that we should all be living by. Not only so that people can create in the knowledge that they will receive recognition (and sometimes money), but also so that we are modelling best practice for our students.

So how does it work?
In Australia, Copyright Law is pretty straightforward:

  • As soon as you create something, copyright protection is automatic.
  • If you use something that has been created by someone else, you must seek their permission.
Ok, so it's a little more complicated that that, but these are the basics (you can read more here).

So basically, any picture you take off Google Images has been created by someone else and is subject to copyright. And you need to seek their permission to use it.

A question that I hear often is "what if I can't find out who created it?", which is a perfectly legitimate question and is at the heart of this problem. The Copyright Council says 'too bad, you can't use it', and that not asking for permission because you can't find the owner is not a defensible position in a copyright infringement matter. 

Another question I hear a lot is "does it really matter if I'm just using it for school?". Technically, it doesn't really matter as much, as if you're only using a small proportion of a work (e.g. 10%), it falls under the 'Fair Dealing' exceptions. However, this can be tricky when it comes to images, as most of us don't tend to use only 10% of an image. And unfortunately, despite some general advice, there are still many grey areas here. 

But even if you do think it's OK to use that photo, the other part of this is what I mentioned earlier, the behaviours that we model for our students. We want them to value to creative work of others (and hopefully create their own works), and we want them to use the internet in ethical and appropriate ways (heck, it's even spelled out in the curriculum). So it's important that we model appropriate and ethical behaviours for them.
Image by opensource.com: https://www.flickr.com/photos/opensourceway/4371001458
Used under a CC BY-SA 2.0 license.

So what can we do?
Where possible, seek permission for any work that you take off the internet. If you can't figure out who owned it, don't use it, or at least acknowledge it (though again, this is rarely considered a defensible approach under Copyright Law - except in some educational cases). 

- OR - 

Create the work yourself. Get out your camera and take a photo of something that illustrates your point. Better yet, get your students to do it!

- OR - 

Use Creative Commons licensed material. If you don't know, Creative Commons is a worldwide system of licensing that allows content creators to specify how their work will be used. It's growing bigger every day, with millions of people around the world licensing their content in ways that allow other people to use it and build on it while still retaining some ownership over their creation. 

Using Creative Commons licensed work gives students (and teachers) the opportunity to access quality images, sounds, music and video in ethical ways that don't breach copyright. I think it's our job to teach our students to used content in this way, by sharing their own work, and by accessing only appropriately licensed content. This is what we should be modelling for them too. 

I teach Creative Commons to my students (pre-service teachers) in the hope that they will use it in their practice. Hopefully, they will also teach it to their students. 

To find Creative Commons licensed material, you can search the Creative Commons portal, or Google offers a Creative Commons search, as does Flickr (just use the 'Advanced Search' function).

Watch this video for more information about Creative Commons.