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. 


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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
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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.


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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....
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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:
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