Wednesday, December 11, 2013

A man who influenced the world: Nelson Mandela

I would like to acknowledge the loss of Madiba - Nelson Mandela. There have been many tributes to his life, and I encourage you to dip into some of them. He was also a great advocate for, and supporter of, education for all, saying that “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”.

Nelson Mandela was a fundamental influence to my thinking and beliefs about racial equality, leadership, and standing up for what you believe - even when you may need to pay the ultimate price. He remains an inspiration.

While he is no longer with us in person, his power, his influence - and what he achieved - will live on.
You may want to watch this speech that Nelson Mandela gave at Harvard in 1998. The audio quality is poor, but the speech itself is a testament to the unswerving commitment, as well as the great sense of humour, Madiba had. Highly recommended. 

Image: Nelson Mandela Day at ProjectArt, Harlem. cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo by Africa Renewal:
Enhanced by Zemanta

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Efficiency but not necessarily motivation: Student attitudes to using mobile devices in their learning

The infographic below was developed by the Australia-based organisation, Open Colleges. The things that caught my attention were some of the statistics, which, while fairly meaningless on their own, do present an attitudinal 'picture'.
  • 59% of students said that they would like to bring in their own mobile devices to enhance learning
  • 86% of students believe they study more efficiently with access to mobile technologies
  • 77% of teachers believe that access to technology boosts student motivation
  • 76% of teachers feel it enhances the material that is being learned
It was interesting that the students didn't report increased levels of engagement or motivation, but rather focussed on efficiency and organisation, which raised some questions for me around 'how' students were being encouraged to learn in these tech enabled spaces.

The infographic also reports on the results of a study whereby when teachers integrated digital games into lessons, students raised their average test scores from 79.1% to 91.5%.

The picture sketched here is one of increased engagement and motivation...although some of the bigger questions around, for instance, community involvement and culturally responsive design are not mentioned, and the development of blended learning sessions and approaches is only alluded to (e.g. there is a brief mention of Problem Based Learning).

It would be good to hear what your reactions was, overall, to the infographic, but also what else you feel is missing.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Fear underpinned by nostalgia? Opinions of what the Facebook generation need to learn

Do we really need children to go 'cold turkey' from their mobile devices? Is there a requirement for 'book camps' with printed materials only? Is there a middle ground for the Internet generation? Or do we need to re-think many of our biases about how we feel learning is 'done best'?

As I listened to the following podcast (What does the Facebook generation need to learn? - MP3 - from 2011) some of the points of view expressed felt to me like fear, that was underpinned by a sense of nostalgia.

Some aspects of learning and life  have fundamentally changed since some of the world became 'connected'.

Siemens (2004) identifies behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism as the three theories of learning most often used to inform the design and creation of learning experiences. These theories, however, “were developed in a time when learning was not impacted through technology” [emphasis not in the original] (Para. 1). Instead, Siemens argues, we need to think about the flow of information in our current knowledge economy as the flow of oil through an oil pipe in an industrial economy - the difference though is that “the pipe is more important than the content within the pipe. Our ability to learn what we need for tomorrow is more important than what we know today‟ (2004).

As you might have guessed from the name connectivism is based on the idea that all learning starts with a connection. The connection can be neural, conceptual, and/or social (Siemens, 2008), and learning is held to be “the ability to construct and traverse connections” (Downes, 2007). In other words, a learner makes sense of existing knowledge and reinterprets it in a way that fits within their existing knowledge framework, and in the process connects, disconnects, and reconnects “knowledge fragments through knowledge creation” (Littlejohn, 2011, Para. 3). To help facilitate connections and information sharing while encouraging life-long learning in the individual as well as the group, learning occurs within learning ecologies, communities and networks (Siemens, 2003).

Framed within connectivism, formal education systems appear flawed, because they are “trying to achieve a task (learning) with a tool (teaching) in an artificial knowledge construct (course) (Siemens, 2005, Para. 1).

So - return to the debate - I really don't feel it's about whether we should be denying young learners access to mobile devices. Rather it is a two-pronged momentum that is required; the first is a focus on encouraging learners to critically think about how they are using their device, building their relationships, and how they are constructing their understandings. And the second is to take a long hard look at the underlying biases that are informing the opinions of the folks in charge of making education policies, and shaping learning experiences on a day-to-day basis.

Your thoughts?

The debate panel included:
Chair: Dr Anthony Seldon, Master, Wellington College
Panel to include: Dr Sarah Churchwell, Senior Lecturer in American Literature and Culture, University of East Anglia; Professor Niall Ferguson, Harvard University, LSE, Author, ‘Civilization’ and Columnist, Newsweek; Harvey Goldsmith, Chairman, Ignite; Jenni Russell, Commentator, The Sunday Times, The Guardian and London Evening Standard


Image: Young girl with smart phone. cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo by "PictureYouth":
Enhanced by Zemanta

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Looking at learner success through a cultural lens: Iwi and whānau 'speak'

Image of a koru Melanie Riwai-Couch opened the Te Toi Tupu hui by talking a little bit about the work she is doing with iwi. A lot of the things she is looking it is around iwi and whānau 'voice'.

Melanie is from a bicultural marriage at a time when it was unusual, and when her parents split, her father brought her up. Growing up with strong Māori roots gave her an interesting perspective on life. She lives and works in Ngāi Tahu, but does not claim Ngāa Tahu in her ancestry. There is a whole other world when it comes to iwi.

Melanie also teaches at the kura, and she discovered all of these things that didn't work for me. The students tried really hard, but there were a lot of things that kept tripping them up. For example, the letter 'i' - is it always a capital letter? So why doesn't me, he, and she have a capital letter too. It was a way to peel back the cultural layers of the spelling traditions, and the cultural shaping that underpins them. She went to the community partners to see if she could find student teachers who would come into the kura and to sit with the children while they read.

Go on creatingThe initiative resulted in several hundred hours of extra reading for the students - and this, Melanie feels, has helped students create a love of reading. There was a sustained shift of at least 1 to 1.5 stanine (PAT), and up to 4 to 5 stanines. This led to Melanie to ask the question, "In what ways are iwi and schools working together to improve Māori student achievement". Students also grow in confidence ("I'll probably succeed in a lot of stuff like getting a degree at University" - Māia, Year 8), and are happy to speak to pretty much anyone.

Parents also say "success for them is to be standing strong and confident and humble in anything and everything they chose to do and to be able to make mistakes and learn from them". And an Iwi education representative said that "it's that whole person" that is key, and another that "Maori student success is when student are grounded in who they are and where they come from whilst achieving success in whatever field they choose no matter where in the world they are" (Iwi Education Representative). Potential is not something that is based in the future, but it is something that students are 'being' and realising.

Three case studies (Ngā Puna Korero) have informed her thinking to date. The sort of thing that is emerging are the importance of sustaining high trust relationships, and this means that, in part, it's working with iwi in the way that iwi want to be worked with. In part this means working within communities of practice that tend to be more responsive to the needs of the participants. One of the students said "people with two languages like us are gifted, bi-lingual and bi-literate. We are talented and clever" (Ruamano, Year 10). Not all iwi receive money from the ministry for education. The purpose of Iwi Education Project funding is "to build iwi capability to engage in and contribute to the education system and the education of their whānau and hapu. This appropriation is primarily used to produce iwi education strategies, reo strategies and implementation plans; and to deliver iwi education project" (Ministry of Education, 2013, p. 1). However, there are tensions between expectations and responsibility - i.e. whose responsibility is it to implement some aspects of an initiative. The 5 iwi with the main schools include Ngai Tahu (579), Ngati Whatua (397), and Ngati Maniapoto (144). The amount of funding, compared with the geographical area or the schools they work with, however, was not scaled to the funding received...ranging from $40,000 per school to $193 per school that they work with. Resourcing is therefore an issue.

The best way to influence the impact schools is, Melanie proposes, through working with organisations such as Te Toi Tupu. Ideally, it is a case of contacting and working with all stakeholders...something that isn't possible if resourcing isn't sufficient. At the end of the day, however, a student has succeeded when students have the confidence and skills to come back to work with iwi. It's about young children building a sense of where they are from, who they are 'from', what they are doing now (as a whole, culturally shaped person), and also where they are heading next.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Thursday, October 10, 2013

MOOCs as a convenient means of establishing patterns of power and authority. Thoughts?

An array of Neolithic artifacts, including bra... A lot of things went through my mind as I read Denis McGrath's post, Are Hi-tech solutions contingent on Lo-tech solutions? Many of these thoughts were loosely related wonderings (so please be patient ;-p).

Denis starts from the "premise that all artifacts we use - are man made, therefore they are in essence human developed technologies". Although he doesn't state that man-made = tangible objects, this got me thinking, especially as later he mentions human speech as a technology. Can something that is (certainly prior to writing) intangible therefore be considered an artifact? If 'no', can it therefore be considered a technology? It is certainly a tool, though. So, I did a bit of digging around (as you do).

The Free Dictionary defines artifact in four different ways" "An object produced or shaped by human craft", "Something viewed as a product of human conception or agency rather than an inherent element", "A structure or feature not normally present but visible as a result of an external agent or action", and "An inaccurate observation, effect, or result, scientific investigation or from experimental error".

These definitions (while not all relevant to the context), I feel help illustrate the complex interplay of the notion of technologies as artifacts as objects shaped by human craft, and as intangibles that are a product of human conception or agency. 

This wider take on artifacts perhaps helps to provide and insight into what happens when we use technologies, compared with consideration of the technology itself. As such, social networks, online communities of practice etc, can all be considered artifacts. When the notion of artifacts as both tangible and intangible comes into play, there are further considerations around the concept that:
technical things have political qualities. At issue is the claim that the machines, structures, and systems of modern material culture can be accurately judged not only for their contributions to efficiency and productivity and their positive and negative environmental side effects, but also for the ways in which they can embody specific forms of power and authority (p. 121, Winner, 1986).
The examples Winner uses illustrate how intended consequences, are frequently underpinned by unintended aspects related to control, as well as political and social effects. As an example, consider the uptake and adaptation of the original design of MOOCs (that has its roots in Connectivism)  by large universities and businesses. It might indeed be extrapolated that
specific features in the design or arrangement of a ... system [are providing] ... a convenient means of establishing patterns of power and authority in a given setting (p. 134, Winner, 1986).
While this in itself remains a controversial suggestion, I do feel that it may offer insights into how and why technologies have (or haven't) been adopted by formal education systems and institutions, and in turn why wide scale adoption has been patchy and fraught with issues.


Reference Winner, L. (1986). Do artifacts have politics. In L. Winter (Ed.), The whale and the reactor: a search for limits in an age of high technology (pp. 19-39). Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Image Neolithic artifacts. CC licenced. Wikipedia.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Friday, September 13, 2013

Somewhere to learn about hashtags and how to tweet @ without getting all tangled up...

Free twitter badgeImage via WikipediaA day or two ago I received a couple of questions from a friend, Yvonne Hynson, about Twitter: "Can you point me to somewhere to learn all about these hashtags and how to tweet @ without getting all tangled up! Please... I am really enjoying Twitter and finding it much more useful than Facebook for finding out ESOL stuff. Just don't understand all the other stuff next to the tweet!" So, I decided to collect together a couple of resources around Twitter, and some of the basics around using it.

  In a nutshell, the # symbol is called a 'hash tag', and it indicates a key topic that you might want to find out about, and you'll also be able to find the trending topics on the right hand side of your Twitter page. I've included a video below where facebookmari explains it way better!! The @ symbol is used with a Twitter user's username e.g. mine would be @howen. It indicates a reply, mention, and / or a re-tweet, and is a form of providing links in a conversation, as well as being a type of attribution if you are sharing a resource or comment. It means that other people can also join the conversation, especially if you use a combination of @ and a hash tag. For example, I might see a great resource from @playnice about #elearning - the two symbols mean that I can re-tweet her link and other folk know that playnice found and shared the resource, and that the topic is eLearning.
Clear as mud? Never fear - the following resources should shed more light on the basics of using Twitter.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Practical strategies for the classroom: Māori students learning as Māori

Late this afternoon (August 28th, 2013 from 3:45pm to 4:45pm) Janelle Ricki facilitated a vibrant webinar, with a focus on focus on Māori students learning as Māori. You can find a recording of the session by clicking this link (you'll need Flash installed to access it), and a copy of the presentation here.

Some of the key questions that she addressed during the session were: How do I move ahead with students who don’t look, sound, or think like me How might I go about inviting student voice, and how might that look? Why do I have to engage with whanau? How do I get to iwi? Actually, who are they and why do they count?

Janelle opened by asking the question 'why'? Why are we having this discussion? One of the reasons are the statistics that show that our Māori students have long been underserved by our education system. E.g. 16 percent of Māori students will become disengaged from any form of any education, employment or training by the age of 17 compared with 6 percent of Pākehā students. Janelle also shared the provocative statement that "Our Māori students are not failing in our education system, our education system is failing them". Several participants commented, including Anne who indicated "I think our education system is failing to meet the needs of a HUGE number of our priority learners..."; Nicky responded that "I agree Anne but it is also a huge generalisation.  There are many different reasons students fail".
strawberrykete (Photo credit: orinoko42)

In 1856 Edward Shortland wrote that "Curbing the will of the child by harsh means was thought to tame his spirit, and to check the free development of his natural bravery. The chief aim, therefore in the education of [Māori] children being to make them bold, brave and independent in thought and act". Janelle then asked everyone to think about what they might change, as teachers, to help their students be bold, brave and independent. Yvonne suggested "Seriously think[ing] about  independence rather than  co dependence"; and Nicky shared that she challenges her "students to take risks and make mistakes already.  I would certainly be able to interact with them more and allow for more of their own interests to enter into the curriculum". And Janine, proposed that we look at "Us, role modelling those 2 words - bold and brave and then asking the question- how dependent are our learners of us? What's stopping them taking the risk?".

The next question Janelle posed is the 'what'...what is being culturally responsive? She also indicated that "if we teach today as we did yesterday, we rob our tamariki of tomorrow", which, in part, requires a shift from just in case learning, to just in time learning. The aim is therefore to help students to develop skills and strategies, which include confidence, capability, ability to collaborate and be connected, competitive and culturally responsive. Janelle outlined why some of these skills might be challenging for some Māori learners. For example, confidence, whereby they can speak comfortably about themselves - their strengths and achievements - which can be very challenging.

So, what is culturally responsive? In part it is accepting and inclusive, and involves us looking at our students in a more holistic way - their emotional, and physical needs, for example...not just the academic skills (i.e. not just the 'head and shoulders'). One of the first steps is being accepting of difference, and then moving along a continuum to where you become actively inclusive. Responsiveness is a two way street and is part of a reciprocal relationship, whereby the educator is committed to meet the student half way and responding to who they are.

How does this work in our classrooms? Janelle outlined the 3 Ps taken from the treaty of Waitangi:
  • Partnership
    • active engagement (tip: keep extending invitations to parent and whānau - that gives the invitation some mana)
    • collaborative decisions
    • equity and equality
  • Participation
    • They know their kids best and want what you want
    • They have valuable knowledge and expertise
    • They are more than just immediate family
  • Protection
    • Of their tikanga, culture, identity, language
Janelle shared some suggestions about running a whānau hui including:
  • Appropriate time (evening). The staff at Putaruru College also suggested an "all day drop in".
  • Kai. The staff at Putaruru College shared the idea about "students producing the kai"
  • Tikanga (for example, making sure that the food is blessed)
  • Child care
  • Students
  • Kaupapa: Māori student achievement
    • What are the aspirations for your tamariki?
    • What are we doing well?
    • What could we be doing better?
Engaging with iwi and hapu is tricky. Under the 3 Ps:
  • Partnership
    • acknowledge mana whenua
    • their mokopuna
  • Participation
    • invite and engage
    • go and learn about your place - the people that were there before the school was developed; what's the history?
  • Protection
    • history
    • tikanga
    • reo
    • mana

Engaging with Māori students. Under the 3 Ps:
  • Partnership
    • acknowledge their mana and whakapapa
    • acknowledge and grow their potential
  • Participation
    • invite and engage
    • go and learn about them - go past knowing about what they are interested in and who lives in their house
  • Protection
    • their aspirations
    • their culture
    • their whānau - whānau is everything; even when there are challenges the students love their whānau unconditionally...and we need to give mana to this.
Janelle provided a raft of suggestions around how to encourage student voice, as well as how to integrate te reo Māori into curriculum.

This was an incredibly rich session with heaps of really great suggestions and ideas. The conversation in the backchannel was lively and, at times, provocative. Feedback for the session included, from Anne "Kia ora Janelle - Inspirational webinar....", and Yvonne asked that the session be repeated. Matt indicated that his school is "just beginning to look at the issue" , and the session has prompted some good suggestions. 


Enhanced by Zemanta

Monday, August 26, 2013

Internet TV for the visually impaired

I hadn't really appreciated what it must be like to be able to hear the audio and not hook into the visual context of videos, movies, and TV shows. The closest I come is the frustration when I am out running and listening to podcasts and the presenter on a TED Talk shows a graph or illustration that they don't describe, and yet it's central to their overall focus.

According to Robert Kingett in Internet TV for the blind "virtually no programs on TV had audio description (**see below to find out what this is), also known as video description to describe to the visually impaired what was happening on the screen. Many people had to just guess about what was happening when watching or ask a nearby sighted person. Students in school were at a serious disadvantage. PBS was the only broadcaster providing educational content that had audio description. In 2010 however, access to TV became a law, finally forcing broadcasters to provide accessible programming to people who were visually impaired" (source).

It was good to read about therefore, about Blindy.TV "a charitable project created by blind people that believe that the blind should be able to enjoy the same television programming that entertains and contributes to the shared culture of their sighted family and friends" (source). Many governments legislate that TV channels have to provide some 'accessible' content (usually measured in hours), but the Internet is one area that has largely escaped such legislation - something that is an issue as increasing numbers of "people are migrating away from the TV and to bandwidth, favoring the on demand access anywhere" (source).

While the service has been developed in the United States (and I couldn't get anything to play on my Mac, making me wonder if it's limited to the US, or if it's an issue with Mac compatibility :-p), it is a great step forward. And I wonder if there is a similar initiative in NZ is for a similar service? (Including in Te Reo Maori?)  

  *** "Audio Description involves the accessibility of the visual images of theater, television, movies, and other art forms for people who are blind, have low vision, or who are otherwise visually impaired. It is a narration service (provided at no additional charge to the patron) that attempts to describe what the sighted person takes for granted -- those images that a person who is blind or visually impaired formerly could only experience through the whispered asides from a sighted companion" (source). 

Read more here: Internet TV for the blind   

Image: 'twitter logo map 09' Found on
Enhanced by Zemanta

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Twelve practical suggestions about how to get the most of participating in online communities

Whenever we learn anything we are influenced by other people, as well as by our culture, our beliefs, experiences we’ve had, the understandings we’ve developed about the world and the way it works, and our current context. Every human being’s learning is therefore shaped by the people around them, even when they are not directly seeking to learn collaboratively. Language and the way we use it to communicate plays a large part in shaping our experiences, especially in the online world.
I suspect that most have us have been misunderstood when they have sent an email, posted a comment in an online forum, or typed up a blog post. Why do these misunderstandings arise? Nancy White (2000) highlights 5 key differences between face-to-face and/or real time (synchronous) communication, and communication where there is a time delay between the initial communication and the reply (asynchronous):
  • No visual cues - this means that as you type you will not be able to pick up on the physical cues you are used to receiving in face-to-face contexts. Written language can be quite slippery, and something you may have meant to be lighthearted, may be read as something totally different.
  • Delayed response - you are likely to be used to this from text messaging and emails. Sometimes, however, the delay might be exceptionally long, or you may not receive a reply at all. There are also group dynamics where a community member contributes a lot, or logs in, reads but does not leave a comment or reply (lurking).
  • Illusion of distance - most of us have done it...sent a communication that we’ve instantly regretted but can’t retrieve. Often it’s something we’d never say if we were in the same room as the person, and as such is outside of social norms.
  • Biased toward writers - while it is becoming easier to communicate using audio and video, novices to online learning communities tend to start with text-based communications. This puts those with less developed literacy skills at a disadvantage.
  • Public versus private - some community members may have quite strong views about what should be public and what should be private; for example, some members will not want to reflect critically about a skill they have trialled or an experience they have had.
So now we have looked at some of the key differences, we can now explore some of the strategies we can use to 1) help encourage positive dialogue in online spaces, in part by modelling responses; 2) minimise the risk of misunderstandings and communications that go awry; and 3) ensure that we don’t inadvertently ‘shut down’ discussions.

Encouraging positive, ongoing dialogue and participation

The following examples are only a very few suggestions and models of approaches you might use (adapted from Anderson, et al, 2001, p. 8) . There are many others, and I would be delighted if this grew into a much bigger resource with a broader range of, please add you’s in the comment box below :-)
  1. Identifying areas of conceptual / theoretical agreement/disagreement: "@Xu Lin, Janelle has provided some compelling suggestions that seem to take a rather different stance from your’s. It would be great if you had the time to respond to her?"
  2. Seeking to reach consensus/understanding: "It feels to me like Martin and Whare are, in essence saying essentially the same thing :-)"
  3. Encouraging, acknowledging, or reinforcing contributions: "Thank you for your insightful comments"
  4. Setting climate for learning: "@Manu - I love the fact that you are 'thinking out loud' in this conversation. It’s great to be able to follow the flow of your thoughts. Would be good to hear if you reached a final conclusion ;-)"
  5. Drawing in participants, prompting discussion: "Any thoughts on this issue?" "Anyone care to comment?". Alternatively, you might want to ask quite specific questions that encourage, for example, the write of a blog post to dig a bit deeper: “The experience you describe here is heartening. I was wondering, though, did you see specific shifts in student writing while they were using Storybird? Were students interacting differently than when they were using pens and paper?
  6. Unpick resources, ideas and comments: "In the video Black says [insert provocative quote]…what do you think? Do you agree / disagree? Have you had similar experiences?"
  7. Focus the discussion on specific issues: "Hmmm - I wonder; it feels as though...[insert specific issue] has been explored a lot in the media, but I am not sure that I agree with the coverage that has been given, because...[select a specific aspect of the issue] "
  8. Summarise discussions: "The original question was …Krishna said...Nigel then responded...and Togi concluded that…. But I feel as though we haven't addressed…"
  9. Explore understanding / suggest explanations.: "I feel as though you are pretty close in your interpretation of …[insert topic / theory / concept here], but I’m not sure you accounted for… …and I feel this is important because…”
  10. Gently highlight what may be misconceptions: "While it sounds as though from a senior management perspective this is likely to be a positive way forward, but I’m not so sure it holds true in other roles…for example, when I was...what do you reckon?"
  11. Share ‘knowledge’ from diverse sources, e.g., videos, articles, podcasts, personal experiences (and include pointers to resources): "I was out running and listening to a podcast, where Gilly Salmon was saying …If you are keen to listen to the podcast in full, you can find it at http://www…."
  12. Responding to technical concerns: "If you want to include a hyperlink in your message, you need to . . ."
A few more tips (from the Australian Flexible Learning Network) for fostering a safe and engaging online community area include:
  1. Sound like yourself, use a 'genuine' voice and model the style and tone of the 'conversation' you would like to see from other online members.
  2. Explore useful communication such as how and when / if to use acronyms and emoticons (smilies).
  3. Use plenty of white space and if you can, use different colours and fonts to enhance clarity and identify key pieces of information.

Roles for effective facilitation

You might be involved in facilitating an online community, and the following are some proposed roles and functions (suggested by Feenberg and Xin, n.d.) that can help you identify on what your purpose is, and so select positive language to match that purpose.
  • Meta Functions: in your role as facilitator you can help foster conditions required for good communication; watch multiple conversations and weave common threads between participant comments, offering prompts and summary when important; help address issues around information overload; summarise, and compare, and contrast different points of view.
One of the issues here is that you “run the risk of wresting ownership of the dialogue from its contributors” (Collison et al., 2000, p. 141). So, often you will need to leave the community members to formulate questions that will deepen the dialogue, while you also “avail yourself of techniques that explore tensions without seeking resolution, examine rationale for beliefs or assumptions without assigning value” (Collison et al., 2000, p. 141).
  • Contextualizing: this is where, as a facilitator, you provide context; select themes or questions for discussion (or sets up a process for community members to do this); open discussions; model interactions and behaviours; share your own experiences; set the tone; and refer to resources or links to extend thinking or that might be useful for community members.
  • Monitoring: in this role, you recognise community members’ contributions; help keep the momentum going in discussions if necessary; and prompt contributions by posing new questions.
As part of monitoring, you will need to acknowledge contributions from every member at some point - this is a bit of a balancing act though, and you don’t want to become the sole voice or the person who always replies.
Positive reinforcement can be very powerful, but remember that by publicly praising a participant you can shut down further dialogue. Other participants reading your message of approval may think: ‘I don’t think I can really add to that’, or your message may create anxiety if other participants think: ‘Why didn’t (s)he respond similarly to my message?’.

Cultural responsiveness

In online communities, as in any other community, there are ethical issues of respect for one another regardless of gender, ethnicity, religion, class and age. As such, as members of an online community, we need to be culturally responsive, and to be aware of the diversity of community members. While this list is not exhaustive, some things to be aware of are,
  • some content may be sensitive – for example, politically correct in one culture but offensive in another culture
  • a request for community members to upload an image of themselves would be inappropriate for some cultures (an image of something that interests them may be OK though)
  • language used may potentially reinforce cultural stereotypes
When posting and/or responding in an online community you may want to look for resources that represent more than one cultural viewpoint.
And remember - recognising that participation in an online community cannot be culturally neutral is the first step in the process of becoming culturally competent (Palloff & Pratt, 2003, p. 41).
There are many more and it would be excellent if you make suggestions (or relate your own experiences) in the comment box below.

Additional resources

  • Avoiding Online Conflict (Moussou, & White, 2004) - provides 4 tips for avoiding online misunderstandings. It also includes some great questions for you to think about in connection with your facilitator roles and responsibilities when a community is experiencing negative behaviours.
  • Wheeler’s blog post, Lurking and loafing (2010), is worth reading in full if you have the time.
  • Let's get more positive about the term 'lurker' looks at the value of lurking, resistance to lurking, and why lurkers ‘lurk’. It also summarises some pros and cons, and has a short, but useful list of suggested further reading.


Enhanced by Zemanta

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Allowing and incentivising schools to adopt technology = progress in education?

I took a couple of sharp intakes of breath while reading this article (Schools are failing our children simply because they are technophobes, by Allister Heath, that was shared by Mike Preece).
I certainly agreed with some of the broad statements ("universities...still mostly requir[e] students to study full time on location and pay increasingly unaffordable fees for the privilege of listening to often mediocre lectures"), as well as with the overall message that education, is in many cases, not meeting many of the needs of learners.
However, I admit to a visceral reaction when the author referred to problems with education as including "no automation, no economies of scale, no productivity gains" - which are surely terms rooted in business developments from the 19th century! Currently, many industries are returning to a small-scale, responsive model of working that has many more similarities to cottage industries than the huge behemoth of companies that are beginning to groan. Rather, for education, shouldn't we be thinking about agile, responsive, individualised facilitation of learning experiences?
In addition, I felt there was a bit of a problem with the author's suggestion that there is a direct causal link between "shockingly high levels of youth unemployment" and the provision of education that "suits neither students nor their employers". Hmmmm - growing population, ongoing recession, diminishing natural resources, the growth of India and China as economic and business powers - maybe these also have some impact on high levels of youth unemployment?
Finally, the whole notion of "there is no proper transition from campus to office": does anyone remember the graduate positions that used to be offered (and still are by some companies) to help with this transition? It isn't purely the responsibility to education providers to smooth this transition; rather, I believe, it needs to be a joint effort that includes education providers, business, and wider communities.
At the end of the day, I suggest that progress for education is way more complex than "paving the way for a more competitive and open education market, allowing and incentivising schools to adopt technology". What do you think? Please jump into the conversation....
Enhanced by Zemanta

Friday, August 2, 2013

Interacting in 3D: A quick review of the Leap Motion

I had the chance to trial a Leap Motion the other day, and jumped at the chance. The post below is a brief overview of my experiences.

Leap motion is a gesture peripheral, which uses infrared sensors to track the movement of a user’s hands in (approximately) 30 cm of space above the device.

Getting started

It was a simple process to get started with Leap motion, which basically involved taking the gizmo out of the box, plugging in the USB cable, and downloading and installing software. It all took about 8 or so minutes in total. After downloading the software and installing it, a tutorial demonstrates some of the device’s capability.

Exploring the free Apps

There are a few free apps in the Airspace App Store (named a bit confusingly for Mac users?) to explore including a couple of games, less interactive (but highly visual) illustrations, and way more interactive ‘education’ focussed tasks; the ones I trialled at length were Molecules and Cyber Science 3D Motion.


I found all of the apps really visual, and pretty easy to get my head around the motions required to manipulate objects. I could see how, for example, with the human skull, it could help some learners get their heads around not only the names of the bones, but where they are located.

Drawbacks and limitations

At the moment, the Leap motion sensor appears to miss hand movements sometimes, which can be highly frustrating (especially when you are shaping up to get a mega score in Cut the Rope by feeding candy to the monster!). Also, where fine movements are required when, for example, you are lining up a bone to place on the skull, the sensor doesn’t seem to always pick up on the finer movements, and when you make larger movements the bone shoots way out of range.
The Leap also needs to be stationary and the user needs to be situated away from very bright light sources. The light and the extraneous motion cause the sensor to lose track of the user’s hands.
There is also a bit of an issue with arm-fatigue. After a while, my arms started to ache, and I’m pretty sure that this didn’t help with the finesse of my motions!

Overall impression

The Leap motion potentially extends the way, as learners, we can interact with virtual worlds. The fact that focus can be on accuracy and visual experience could be a great way of learning procedures, as well as processes, and how things interact or are structured. I can see how, for instance, a student learning to perform minor surgery could experience how to hold the scalpel, and see what would be visible underneath the skin once an incision is made (although obviously wouldn’t have a sense of pressure).
On the other hand, the ‘lack of accuracy’ in sensing fine motions certainly undermined my experience, making for frustration and resulting in me reaching for the touch pad on my laptop. In part, this is likely my inexperience with working in this type of environment, but this would be true of most people trialling this gizmo.
Potentially, this could be huge, but some of the glitches need to be ironed out before widescale adoption is recommended.

More in depth reviews are available here:

  • Trying out the Leap Motion - cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo by Richard:
  • Leap Motion in the box - cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo by rafm0913:
Enhanced by Zemanta

Monday, July 22, 2013

Balancing professional development for teachers, with funding, and student achievement

In this podcast (that was shared by Mike Preece), some key points arise about providing learning opportunities across all sociocultural groups in New particular those who are facing socio-economic disadvantages. The link between provision of professional development and shifts in student achievement are discussed, and it was recognised that it is tough to demonstrate this shift using standardised tests. The link between lifts in achievement are not easily measured, and it is problematic drawing a direct causal link...especially as school are inundated by initiatives.

It would be great to hear your reactions - do you feel that use of achievement data to apply for funding "constrains and controls" teaching and teachers? Should we go back to assessing "the performance of individual teachers"? What do you feel the key aspects are that improve the learning experience for students in schools? Should the requirements for entry to teacher training be raised? Can Board of Trustees carry out "trusted" performance appraisal?
How good are our teachers and does it matter? Radio New Zealand's education correspondent, John Gerritsen discusses the quality of school teachers with Angela Roberts, president of the Post Primary Teachers' Association; Dr Judith Aitken, a member of the committee that reviewed the teachers council and a former head of the education review office; and Professor Dugald Scott, a former dean of Education at Victoria University of Wellington (source).
Duration:  27′ 54″
Image: 'Balancing on the Invisible' Found on
Enhanced by Zemanta

Monday, July 15, 2013

Want to get involved? Connecting Children with Nature on an international scale

“The child in nature is an endangered species, and the health of children and the health of the Earth are inseparable” Richard Louv 2005 (USA)

Let’s tackle conservation and environmental issues from the ground up – by facilitating children’s interaction and appreciation of nature through practical experience. Conservation and environmental issues become secondary benefits, developed by them.

How can we do this?
Our small town in the south [of New Zealand] already is.

Fiordland Kindergarten is already a trailblazer with its nature discovery program, pioneering and constantly developing an nature inspiring outdoor education programme, with 8 more kindergartens in Southland now on board. Kids restore the Kepler is showing our school aged children how we can make a real difference to conservation within an area. The Fiordland Conservation Trust are working from the ground up to facilitate real relationships between corporations and conservation.

Can we share this information?
Of Course!!!! If we can also add in the wealth of knowledge and practices from other organizations that share similar philosophies, the conference will have relevance to all the education sectors.
The Proposal
With the help of likeminded organizations, Southland Kindergarten Association and friends would like to welcome all levels of educators from around the globe for a weekend of education, ideas and inspiration on how to help integrate nature into their curriculum, whether on a local or government level.

What will we offer?
Internationally recognized key note speakers from around the globe, interactive and practical sessions on how to implement the ideas given in awe inspiring Fiordland.

This is dependent on availability of speakers but April 2014 is proposed at this stage.

Who will we offer it to?
At this stage it is thought that the key marketing would go to all educators from 0 – 18 around New Zealand and Australia, there is no reason why we couldn’t widen the net further if appropriate. All Department of Conservation educators, as well as relevant Government representatives should also be invited to attend.

What we want from your organization?
To discuss the options of working with your organization to enable us to maximize the potential of the conference.

Thank you.
Jo Marsh
Education Coordinator, Kids Restore the Kepler
Fiordland Conservation Trust, 28 Acheron Way, Te Anau, Southland 9600
"This has to be the most inspiring project on the planet", Ruud Kleinpaste - the ‘Bugman’
“I have always had a belief that children who experience “Being” in Nature playing and learning alongside their peers and with the guidance of an interested adult will become “nature literate”. If we want the best possible future for our children and our environment we need to give them the opportunity and time to connect with nature in its wildest forms, a place where they can build emotional and physical resilience - they need to love the Earth before we ask them to want to care and protect it. Then they will become true nga kaitiaki (guardians) of our whenua (land).(Claire Maley-Shaw, Fiordland Kindergarten 2012)

'Discovery, Wonder, and Amazement' Found on

Monday, July 8, 2013

One way to think about learning

I was talking to a delightful lady from Northern Ireland the other day, who is on retreat for 3 months in New Zealand. We got to talking about how important it was to take some time away from all the gadgets and devices, and to take some time out. I mentioned how lucky John and I were to have a bit of land up in Northland, near Kerikeri, and much of time there we used to plant trees.

Since 2008 we have planted about 9,000 trees, shrubs, and flaxes...most of them about 20cm tall. We carefully prepare the soil before planting and then: plant, stake, protect, mulch, feed, water, weed the tree (and yes, I am sometimes seen going around and tickling the odd leaf and have been heard murmuring encouragement)...and then, all we can do is wait. Sometimes, in spite of all we do the tree will die.

It struck me during the conversation with this lady that we can't make the tree grow. As well as the nurturing we can provide, there are genetics, drought, flooding wind, pipe clay, an interesting left over from all the volcanoes called 'pan' (compressed ash deposit in the soil that the trees find it tough to grow in), insects, escapee sheep and so on.

After this realisation I then made the leap to learning (and I'll try not to extend this analogy to the point of tedium! :-p). As with the trees, you can't make it happen! You can provide opportunities that are likely to suit as many learners as possible, you can nurture the learners with conditions that will support their non-cognitive needs as well as their cognitive ones, and, depending on the environment in which you work, you can make sure that everyone is warm, has enough to eat and drink, and are generally as comfortable as possible. In addition, you can encourage your students to be self-advocates and impact their learning environments, you can encourage the parents, whanau, and wider community to get involved and to take more of an active part in supporting the learner(s).

However, there are always factors you won't be able to influence...things over which you have no control. While this isn't a 'get out of jail free' card (i.e. of course you pursue every avenue you can), there will be learners you can't reach...and certainly cannot make learn.

John and I have found it invaluable in our tree-planting is to try different approaches to the planting and nurturing, often informed by talking to our wonderful neighbours about their own tree-planting experiences, and, using social media, reading, listening, watching, and talking to people about what they are doing around the globe. We just keeping planting, and tweaking our approach as we learn what works best in the various environments we have here. As we plant we have noticed many positive things...the older surviving trees(some now twice as tall as I am) create a nursery for the younger trees, we have some self-seeded trees growing now...and the birds are beginning to come back. The soil is improving, and we are delighted to have lots more worms, and greater drought and flood tolerance.

As I said, I am not going to extend the analogy to breaking point, but, for me, it has been a useful way to think about learning...especially the realisation that with both trees and learners, a 'one size fits all' approach never works.

Image: cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo by Hazel Owen:

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Research reports: there are no discernible differences between students who have access to technology at home and those who don't

It's all rather confusing! A few weeks ago, the wonderful Rachel Dingle recently shared a piece of research with me that made me go...hmmmm. The research, as she said, indicates that "there are no discernible differences between students who have access to technology at home and those who don't". The abstract reads:
Computers are an important part of modern education, yet many schoolchildren lack access to a computer at home. We test whether this impedes educational achievement by conducting the largest-ever field experiment that randomly provides free home computers to students. Although computer ownership and use increased substantially, we find no effects on any educational outcomes, including grades, test scores, credits earned, attendance and disciplinary actions. Our estimates are precise enough to rule out even modestly-sized positive or negative impacts. The estimated null effect is consistent with survey evidence showing no change in homework time or other "intermediate" inputs in education (Fairlie, & Robinson, 2013, Experimental Evidence on the Effects of Home Computers on Academic Achievement among Schoolchildren)
This was a null finding. In other words, while there was no positive effect, there was no negative effect on completion of homework, for example, or on academic achievement, which is something indicated in other studies. For example, Ofer Malamud and Cristian Pop-Eleches (using a regression discontinuity design writing to estimate the effect of home computers on child and adolescent outcomes) write in Home Computer Use and the Development of Human Capital that:
We collected survey data from households who participated in a unique government program in Romania which allocated vouchers for the purchase of a home computer to low-income children based on a simple ranking of family income. We show that children in households who received a voucher were substantially more likely to own and use a computer than their counterparts who did not receive a voucher. Our main results indicate that that home computer use has both positive and negative effects on the development of human capital. Children who won a voucher had significantly lower school grades in Math, English and Romanian but significantly higher scores in a test of computer skills and in self-reported measures of computer fluency. There is also evidence that winning a voucher increased cognitive ability, as measured by Ravenís Progressive Matrices. We do not find much evidence for an effect on non-cognitive outcomes. Finally, the presence of parental rules regarding computer use and homework appear to mitigate the effects of computer ownership, suggesting that parental monitoring and supervision may be important mediating factors (2010, p. 1)
Taken at face value, these results are at best disheartening. However, I started to ponder - as we know a computer by itself does little for enhancing learning experiences. The learner has to have reasonably well digital literacy / digital citizenship skills; they have to have to be developing metacognitive skills; and they need to have a sense of investment in their own learning. So, now we are back to thinking about curriculum design, and how eLearning is integrated into curricula.

There is little surprise that access to a computer at home is not efficacious in and of itself. Rather, this is just one very small piece of a large and complex puzzle that leads back to how we learn and teach.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Virtue of Virtual Fieldtrips (LEARNZ)

kepler track 
Barrie Matthews (LEARNZ Project/Technical Manager) facilitated this session (with Vicki Hagenaars - a classroom teacher extraordinaire with a focus on digital based learning - also sharing some of her experiences). The session  covered the benefits of Virtual Fieldtrips, looking at pedagogies, and encouraging participants to consider opportunities for, for example, students with SEN - due in part to the virtual nature of trip. (You can access a recording of the session here:; and the presentation show during the session here:

Previous to the session, Vicki wrote I have used "LEARNZ as a method for making my students aware they can be part of an online, collaborative learning environment.  They are always amazed that their questions are mirrored and answered during audioconfereces. The best learning engagement so far has been the one trip last year that we sent an ambassador on - huge buy in to the daily diaries and fully understanding the trip we sent our dolphin friend Poseidon on". 

Barrie started by providing a brief overview of LEARNZ, but giving an overview of a recent trip called Kids restore the Kepler. As well as students being involved, it also showed that individuals can take positive actions themselves. Barrie talked about how to choose fieldtrips, and Vicki gave some insight how she goes about choosing trips by, for example, having a look at the planned fieldtrips at the beginning of the year and taking note of what and when so that she can plan them into her. The fieldtrips are also supported by outside organisations.

The online space for LEARNZ has recently been re-designed and it's much easier to use than it used to be to find your way around and use. The site has a range of features such as an integrated glossary. Vicki said that she uses the background pages about a week ahead to help start her learners thinking about the subject. She usually uses a buddy reading approach, followed by a lot of discussion and research around further ideas before the fieldtrip 'kicks off'.

All of the fieldtrips are curriculum integrated, and even though the most obvious link are science, maths, environmental education, there have been other focii such as health, art and history. For example, a recent fieldtrip involved students working with Ngāi Tahu visiting sites around Timaru, making the pigments, history, contemporary use etc. Vicki mentioned that the curriculum objectives are really useful, and helps her to engage students with relevant authentic activities and tasks. Many of the fieldtrips are aimed across sectors, and can be adapted for junior secondary.


The LEARNZ Newsletters are quite useful because they provide deadlines, especially when ambassadors from a school have been sent. The LEARNZ initiative is organic, and the team really appreciate input from the students and teachers who participate. Pete Sommerville (the LEANRZ project director who was also at the session) mentioned that "Without exception the evolution of LEARNZ has been as a result of excellent feedback from teachers". One example shared by Pete was re the Kids restore the Kepler: ''The two versions of the text was useful.  The inclusion of te reo Māori was excellent " (teacher feedback). A comment  from another teacher was '' I find the field trips as a great way of introducing vocab and scientific language to students. As well as teaching inquiry skills and science knowledge. I used the glossary section of the web site and selected words to use for word study prior to the field trip. We used the words for spelling activities, dictionary skills and quick writing activities. This is helpful for ESOL students that can have difficulty with vocab".

Teachers can send a class mascot or toy, for $30, on a trip. Each of the mascots has their own page. It helps cement the relationship and gives a bit of buy in. Vicki was a bit unsure that Intermediate students would buy into having a mascot go on a trip, but she found that having a mascot involved, and reading their ambassador's diary really helped engaged the students. Barrie also mentioned that secondary schools have had similar experiences. Anne K, in the chat said "Love the idea of a mascot travelling.... adds another dimension to the class involvement. [Brings] an almost face to face dimension tot he virtual trip". Ambassadors are usually returned, although there was a recent fatality rafting the Tongariro.

Students can post questions on the forums for the experts on the fieldtrips. Using an landline phone, Skype, and the audio bridge, students are able to connect with folk on the field trips via audioconferences, and post their questions in advance. Vicki mentioned that the "kids get quite a buzz out of being involved", and Pete said "Visual learning in a shared group is much less threatening than learning by yourself so there is a greater level of focus as you are supported". Often there are students from a number of schools, geographically dispersed, all online and asking questions at the same time. There is no video with it, for many reasons, but Vicki advised that "When we are listening I tend to have a print out of the questions for the students to make notes on.  Gives them focus". One teacher commented "Sometimes our computers don't oblige and that can be frustrating for the kids and me - that’s a school issue but does affect how we use the website. But this won’t put me off continuing to use LEARNZ as for the children who take part, it is the audio conference that stays with them. And for me especially  it is the way Andrew relates to the children - his commitment and warmth come through in all his interactions, even though he has done these trips before he always makes them fresh and exciting".

The videos are one of the biggest learning opportunities  and a couple of iterations later the videos are being put on to Vimeo, and are being accessed by mobile devices, as well as being downloaded to local machines or networks to be watched. Examples of videos can be accessed at:

With reference to the videos and engaging the students, feedback has included "they said they did no real work watching the videos and completing the questions independently, however the level of understanding was higher than is typically observed from text based resources". Pete explained that "during field trips we aim to develop meaningful relationships between experts/students, LEARNZ Teacher/class teacher, LEARNZ Teacher/students and the multiple media helps this getting to know". Merryn, in the chat also commented that "It's amazing how much thought has gone into every aspect of this - so many ingredients, active and reflective".

Kids are challenged to 'do' something, and to take it to the next level. Schools have been inspired to create their own trips, and Pete shared that "Ah yes we do hear of schools organising their own trips - Stuart Cook from Methven School has a great story to tell about that". Barrie shared that if you are interested in signing up for any of the fieldtrips you can:
This was an incredibly comprehensive session, which clearly showed the development of a wonderful resource that has been developed over the last 11 years. Anna K commented that this was an "awesome opportunity to see the richness of LEARNZ - can't believe I have never been involved with this wonderful programme!"

  • 'The path' Found on
  • Returning birdsong to a Great Walk; LEARNZ
Enhanced by Zemanta