Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Take part in a digital storytelling competition

Planet example
Planet example (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Details of the PoliCulturaEXPOMilano2015 were shared by Michael Barbour.

PoliCulturaEXPOMilano2015 is a global competition where the "principal theme of the Exposition will be 'Feeding the Planet, Energy for life'". "The idea is to open up a dialogue between international players in order to exchange views on the major environmental, nutritional and energetic issues which are more and more relevant to everyone" (source).The belief is that "that the Exposition represents a unique opportunity to >engage children, youth, teachers and families  in a program aimed at stimulating and developing the knowledge on these important topics" (source).

"For this reason Politecnico di Milano organizes PoliCulturaEXPOMilano2015, a digital storytelling competition for schools aimed at creating an engaging learning experience, based on modern technological techniques and methods" (source).

"Since 2006, PoliCultura has involved nearly 25.000 students, aged 5 to 18, and over 1.500 teachers" (source).

Interested in taking part?

All the activities for the schools will start in the second semester (school year 2014-15) for the Northern Hemisphere and in the first semester (school year 2015-16) for the Southern Hemisphere.

The "PoliCulturaEXPOMilano2015 contest asks students to build a multimedia story on the themes related to Expo Milano 2015 with the guidance of their teachers. They will be provided with the instruments necessary to create the narrations as well as their teacher will be supported with educational resources" (source).
It's a good idea to check out the information kits provided, as well as the learning impact.


Some of the main reasons to take part include:
  • the issues are really of planetary relevance (and very good for pedagogy)
  • this is a world education experience, with world communities of learners, world-shared resources, world-shared content…
  • there is high visibility of the output (in the initiative website, as well as at the universal exposition’s premises…)

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Ensuring survival and finding balance at work as an educator

It’s spring, and to help pick up on the theme of growth and connectedness Dave Burton (from Potential Development) in this webinar (recording for the session; Padlet of ideas shared during the session) helped extend our thinking about work and life - in particular about how it can help us achieve a ‘life work balance’.

The Map of Meaning model (originally developed by Marjolein Lips-Wiersma, Lani Morris, and Patricia Greenhough) also helps us examine where our focus is, on others or on ourselves. Most importantly it introduces the 4 main components which lead to us having a sense that our work is meaningful and of value to ourselves and to others.

The model helps us understand how we’re investing our time and whether that investment is helping us achieve our real goals; the goals that matter most. Dave started by talking about finding balance, as well as negotiating the path between your own reality and inspiration, and shared an example of his own experiences this year.

The model

The tool was unpacked during the session and stories shared that opened discussion to help us find ways to recognise and value how we balance the demands of life and work - from reality to inspiration. Some of the key areas of behaviour were:
  • Developing the Inner Self – Developing oneself and one’s resources. 
  • Unity with Others – Building and maintaining relationships. Dave suggests that there is less and less time at work to 'chew the fat', to build relationships. 
  • Expressing Full Potential – Promoting or representing oneself, taking oneself to market. One element of this is "exercising one's mark and putting it on the table so that others can hear it and respond to it. For example, a head of department needs to be aware of what you have done". 
  • Service to Others – Delivering the goods. This one has "much more of an action to it. Doing what one says one will do. It's rather more practical and involves doing the things and getting the results".

Experiences and reflections

Vicki shared that she feels as though "I have lost my voice in the school I am in...am feeling more oppressed now". Dave suggested that personal development (developing personal self) comes under threat when things are busy.

"The loneliness of the long-distance runner"...the change agents, needs the support of others who are willing or able to acknowledge that it's tough. It could be a shared experience of facing challenges that draws us together, whether it's "motorcycle gangs or an acapella choir".  It's also important to express what we can offer, and summarise what we've achieved; in a way "sounding your own note in the Universe".


During this webinar Dave encouraged everyone to explore the tension between the inspiration that drives us and the circumstances in which we’re working. The questions he used to help frame up our thinking were:
  1. Where has the focus been for you in your work this year?
  2. What has supported/ensured your survival?
  3. What has been in balance, out of balance?
  4. What have the consequences of that been for you?
  5. How might you adjust your focus: For the remainder of this year? For next year?
Nathaniel shared that "Focus for me in work has probably been focused on service to others (and not just this year either). I think this is almost an easy place to be and stay in. I find I'm not so good in the unity with others, although I think I'm experiencing growth in this area. I probably need to focus on developing my inner self - or perhaps my whole self in terms of keeping healthy physically which will help mentally also".

Wrap up...

This webinar helped us understand that working with this model not only helps ensure that we stay on track with our work, it helps us understand why we may be feeling stressed or even overwhelmed. It helps us adjust how we spend our time to lessen those negative feelings and ensure that we do find meaning, purpose and value in our work.

To use the Map of meaning as a means of survival, is quite an investment. Having a clear sense of what inspires you is one of the steps to leading a meaningful and successful life. However, there is often a gap between the inspiration that motivates us, and the reality in which we find ourselves.

Missed the session?

If you missed the session you can always access the recording, here:

And you can watch a couple of videos about the Map of Meaning here:



  • Spring. CC (BY ND) licensed Flickr image by Moyan Brenn: https://www.flickr.com/photos/aigle_dore/13026815355/
  • Balance. cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo by James Box: http://flickr.com/photos/b0xman/2622396232/

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Are meetings taking over?

As you go to yet another meeting, you might perhaps be wondering why. It may help you to know that you are not alone. The findings from a recent survey by LogMeIn, Inc. and Ovum suggests that not only has the number of meetings being called increased, the indication is that the meetings are perceived by participants as providing little or no value.
Some of the findings include:
More than 50% of workers reported an increase in the sheer number of meetings they are expected to attend; 2/3 of these workers indicate that at least 1/2 of their meetings are not of value; and worse, chronic late start times of these meetings are having a very real impact on worker productivity, most notably with executives, who, on average, are losing 3 hours a week – 5 1/2 days per year – in meeting delays alone. (Source)
Virtual meetings are now becoming the norm with 24 % of all meetings being virtual, a trend that skews higher for younger workers (age 26-35) who report that 36% of all of their meetings are held virtually. (Source)
You can get a full copy of the Ovum report, Collaboration 2.0: Death of the Web Conference (As We Know It) here, or get some quick highlights from the infographic below.

Image: Collaboration 2.0. Death of the web conference (as we know it). Source:LogMeIn, Inc.media contact from: 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Where next with Professional Learning and Development in NZ?

The curriculum can be re-interpreted depending on the context. For example, around Auckland and Northland, there are different interpretations compared with Southland for example.

One of the most important things about the PLD review is that everyone on the advisory group panel believes that we are all learners. Community and sharing is key. For some people, the notion of a spiral of inquiry for example, is not easy to conceptualise unless you have done it.

Sandra Cubbitt talked about the background of The Report of the PLD Advisory Group (2014), and the people who were involved in the review. The challenge in the work is translating how what you knows works in your context, to a more general context. How can we create system learning across New Zealand. Sandra mentioned two levers - funding and legislation; other soft levers include the curriculum. A new creation of a PLD system that recognises these levers is challenging.

What does sustainability mean? (Taking the money away because you are all right on your own?) We don’t examine a project or a programme and look at it to see what it is we need to modify to acknowledge the ‘time’...that recognises shifts in ways of learning, for instance. Where there is a lot of evidence, which evidence do you use?

The group started at the bottom to identify what should be happening in every school. Sandra pointed us to the Spiral of inquiry, learning and action on p. 16 of the report. What they have discovered however, as when you get more into it, there is utter confusion around the notion of inquiry. The group is creating case studies around what inquiry ‘looks like’ to help exemplify the practice.

One of the key factors is social dialogue, which includes navigational openings. The spiral of inquiry recognises that it’s necessary for every teacher and every leader has the experience of inquiry...therefore, it’s not ‘teaching as inquiry’. As such, there needs to be a strong focus on building the leadership capability.

How do you know that you are making an impact? What are valued student outcomes? The government ones of literacy and numeracy? The focus on national standards gave us narrow measurement data, and was not positive for the national curriculum. Therefore, this group has taken a way wider view of valued student outcomes. We still have to be able to tell government about the impact on students learning.

On p. 21 in the report, Sandra shared that teachers have fed back that teachers can’t see theselves as visible...where are the teaching practices? What is it that the professional has to learn? It’s about the professional as learner. The group are going to insert another box into the diagram so that the teacher is visible.

Some interesting provocations and ideas, in particular around the fundamental influence of the Principal, and the necessity of them being involved.

It’s definitely worth reading the report. The advisory group are looking for feedback around the approaches they are proposing, so you can also contact them by email at PLD.Secretariat@minedu.govt.nz.

Image: On white: Who you really are. CC (BY NC) licensed image by James Jordon: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jamesjordan/2226419650/

Monday, October 13, 2014

Upskilling and empowering eTeachers

How do we, as educators, upskill in a way that both empowers us to figure out how things might work best for our learners, while having no experiencing of learning in that way ourselves? Stephen Bright in E-teachers collaborating: Process based professional development for e-teaching (a .pdf file) explores this question.

Stephen indicates that "Lecturers (e-teachers) who get involved with e-learning face a number of challenges. Often they are grappling with a way of teaching in which they have no experience as learners, and while feedback processes may be available for monitoring and analysing the face-to-face lecturing environment, few systems are in place in most institutions to give supportive feedback to staff about their teaching effectiveness in the online environment" (Bright, 2008, p. 75).

Conducting a small-scale case study, Stephen worked with six teaching staff who had a range of eLearning experience from beginner to advanced. The purpose was to develop a framework and process for collegial review of teacher presence in online courses. It was framed in terms of Professional Development (PD) rather than Quality Assurance (QA). The study was conducted to increase the quality and quantity of feedback that teachers get about their courses. Most of the QA processes tend to be based on a check list, so re-framing it as PD was a way of making it less imposing, and this was enhanced by the fact that the participants created their own checklist.
In the paper, Stephen recommends the Garrison, Anderson and Archer (2000) eBook as a primer for eLearning and a model. He also uses the Seven Principles for Good Practice from Chickering and Gamson (1987) around undergraduate education, engagement, and active learning. Stephen Marshall's Maturity Model is also suggested as a benchmark.

Of the seven people involved, each was given one principle each. They then met to brainstorm, and collated their ideas in a wiki. The final step was going through and undertaking a rating process (what are the must haves, and what are the nice to haves?). This resulted in primary indicators (30 - the must haves) , and secondary indicators (60 - the nice to haves). The participants discussed how eTeachers could set high expectations - feedback, timeliness, exemplars, and models, and generic feedback comments in neutral spaces, for example.

The Collegial Appraisal process was based around a range of roles, which took about 8.5 hours of face-to-face time and 3.5 hours contributing to the wiki. They spent an average of 2 hours each on self-appraisal and 4.5 hours for 3 review meetings.

The findings indicated that the staff who participated felt empowered rather than evaluated, and the resulting framework was available for institutional use. In addition, it illustrated the fact that you don't have to have best practice frameworks, and you end up with more ownership when the eTeachers develop the frameworks themselves. The framework often ends up a good match with other benchmark models.

How do you conduct evaluation of blended and online courses at your institution? Is this an approach you might like to, or have already tried? Please leave comments below.

Reference: Bright, S. (2008). E-teachers collaborating: Process based professional development for e-teaching. In Hello! Where are you in the landscape of educational technology? Proceedings ascilite Melbourne 2008. http://www.ascilite.org.au/conferences/melbourne08/procs/bright.pdf

Image: 'Planning Your Online Coursev2'  http://www.flickr.com/photos/59217476@N00/8186356402. Found on flickrcc.net.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

What do you think of Google Classroom?

Google Classroom is the new kid on the block, perhaps offering a (currently free) option to Teacher Dashboard. I have explored Google Classroom, and have spoken to a couple of people who are using it, but I would love to hear more from folk who are using it a lot with their learners (of any and all ages :-p). What do you think of it (overall impression)? What do your learners think of it? Any really positive aspects? What would you like to change / add?
If you're not sure what Google Classroom is, the description on the Google Classroom online space (which is also the place you can kickstart your own Google Classroom) is as follows:
Classroom is available to anyone with Google Apps for Education, a free suite of productivity tools including Gmail, Drive and Docs.
Classroom is designed to help teachers create and collect assignments paperlessly, including time-saving features like the ability to automatically make a copy of a Google Document for each student. It also creates Drive folders for each assignment and for each student to help keep everyone organized.
Students can keep track of what’s due on the Assignments page and begin working with just a click. Teachers can quickly see who has or hasn't completed the work, and provide direct, real-time feedback and grades right in Classroom.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Social curation and what it might mean for learning

From the awesome Joyce Seitzinger (@catspyjamasnz) is a visual feast that helps capture some of the key concepts of social curation, online identity, and what these can mean for learning going forward.

The implications for formal education are fundamental...as Joyce observes "I don't think that education is about centralized instruction anymore" (Slide 10). Your thoughts?

Thursday, July 10, 2014

A brief overview of the Internet in New Zealand

Minister of Comms and IT, Amy Adams, opened the second day of NetHui with an overview of the Internet and digital technology in New Zealand. One of the first things Amy said was "the Internet and the Internet economy were successful because they were not led by government", although she didn't seem to unpack that further...but I may have missed something!

One of the key things that Amy mentioned was the fact that the development of UfB and other initiatives are underway, the next stage is to consider how connectivity can continue to be enhanced for the folks outside the UfB footprint - in particular rural and remote areas of New Zealand.

International trade with overseas markets - ICT is the 3rd biggest export of the New Zealand economy. A range of initiatives are now underway to establish and grow the presence of New Zealand expertise and products with international customers.

Internet Governance and net neutrality - all Internet traffic should be treated equitably. Despite the core neutrality principal many countries stray from neutrality by blocking sites, for example, deemed harmful. The telecomms market is evolving, with connections with a data cap of 50GB doubled in the year ending June 13.

Net neutrality is an issue that will be considered by government in the upcoming years, and it is likely to have significant implications of the telecomms sector in New Zealand. Amy sees that this will be a debate that will help develop an understanding of Net neutrality in a New Zealand context.

There is a growing debate around what Internet government should comprise. As the Internet matures there are complex issues to consider such as how our privacy is protected.

Amy recognises that it takes all sectors and a variety of voices to discuss what we want the future to look like.

Image: 'We love Internet' http://www.flickr.com/photos/45940879@N04/12301114235. Found on flickrcc.net

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Re-shaping assessment to value different forms of 'success'

Assessment is always a hot topic, whether you are involved in formal education or other forms of learning and upskilling. This webinar session, facilitated by Manu Faaea-Semeatu and Nadell Karatea-Kokiri, focussed on how we can re-think and re-shape assessment. In part this is through re-defining what constitutes 'success', especially for our Māori and Pasifika learners.

Position yourself as a learner

One of the first things to do when re-thinking assessment is to to position yourself as a learner, and Nadell suggested asking yourself the following questions:
  • What things do I love doing when I am a learner?  
  • What inspires me?  
  • What am I passionate about in terms of Māori Education?  
  • What spins my wheels in the learning that I do?  
  • What style of learning do I enjoy and what keeps me focussed when I’m in a learning environment?

Traditional views of assessment

Traditional views of assessment, Nadell explained, "see classrooms full of tamariki (children), all in one space having to sit and listen. The teacher delivers a concept or problem for them to engage with. If this is how our tamariki are learning, what are we expecting when we assess them? The emphasis in this environment is placed on the grade rather than what students have been asked to learn".  

In a re-framed view, rather than assessment driving the learning, the learning drives the assessment. Nadell mentioned that "schools do need to know what the learning outcomes are learners. Accordingly, at times school-wide data should be collected and analysed. Schools do this to modify their policies, teaching programmes and teaching activities in order to improve learning outcomes".

Nadell went on to speak about Te Marautanga o Aotearoa (the Māori equivalent of the NCEA), which embraces strategies that are most efficacious for Māori learners, and Māori achieving success as Māori. 

Assessing for success: Strengths-based assessment

How can we assess for success? We should be looking at strengths-based success. The ideology of NCEA is to measure skills and competencies and how well they do those things...this is a strengths-based approach. The intention of NCEA is based on the premise that NCEA was not designed for students to fail.  Assessment is not designed for students to fail - but test what knowledge they have learned.  These are things that the kids are good at AND how well they do these things.  NZQA has produced two strategies, ‘Te Rautaki Māori a te mana mātauranga o NZ and the Pasifika Strategy.

Success as an acronym can be viewed as:
  • S = scaffold
  • U = Unite
  • C = Co-create (something great)
  • C = Capture (the rapture. Not sticking to the curriculum and making the most of the learning)
  • E = Elevate (to perpetuate. The students are constantly on a high and experiencing levels of success)
  • S = Strive to thrive (developing a high level of resilience)
  • S = Support (what is taught).

Some examples

Nadell talked about the Year 2 and 3 tamariki from Te Arawaru, a Central Normal School learning about ‘patterns’ to make kete.  She asked "what things do our tamariki Māori love learning about? What types of activities engage our tamariki to learn and to also work collaboratively together?  What spins their wheels?  ‘Mā te tuakana, ka tōtika te teina, mā te teina ka tōtika te tuakana’". Every day the tamariki meet together for a karakia, and the tamariki lead the karakia. The "whole team...whānau...start each day off together and end the week together sharing and learning while developing oral language".  Waiata and haka are also shared at this time "it's a time for our tamariki to be confident" and it's "a time for the audience to ask questions". When scaffolded and supported "our tamariki are able to lead their learning".

The Gagana Samoa Speech Competition offers students opportunities for NCEA Levels 1, 2, and 3 Gagana Samoa students to participate in the ASB Polyfest. Manu explained that having students speak about their language and culture in an environment that they are comfortable is essential. There also need to be opportunities to access NCEA frameworks in different subject areas that lean towards valuing Pasifika heritages, languages and cultures.  One way of extending this is working with other subject teachers in other curriculum and learning areas to see how Pasifika learners can engage in standards that work for them – not the other way around. "Strengths-based approaches are key, because this prepares students for the career pathways of their choice – we work towards what we are passionate about and good at!!" "The ability to gain credits through performances enables students to experience success, and this often transfers to other learning areas".

Questions you may also be asking...

One of the first questions to be asked was by Viola who wrote "How do you see success in perhaps the Arts transitioning into other curriculum areas?" Manu responded that once students had experienced success, it definitely increased student confidence and transitioned into other subject areas (as Janine said "success breeds success").

Another great question was from Gaylene who asked "How can we at schools involve whānau more effectively in assessments?" Nadell responded that much of it is about building relationships - rather than the only contact being the phone call saying that their son or daughter isn't listening in class. One example, Nadell gave was of a school that opened up their computers one evening and whānau came in to do work alongside their tamariki. The first thing therefore is to create an environment where families feel safe and comfortable. Manu added that you could also ask whānau for "content for assessments and context that could be used".

Heather asked a question around stereotyping "the tone of it was a lot of deficit thinking". "How do you empower students to be assessed orally in a way that supports literacy development?". Manu responded that oral assessment can be used to test reading and writing skills, but "this is from a deficit model". "I would look to extend this further and encourage students to transition the oral to the writing...to listen to recordings of themselves. It's also important to know that students need more time". "It's also important to engage the student around what they are interested in and to base assessment on those interests".

The final question to be posed was: "There is a comfort level for schools (perhaps) to offer a one size fits all assessment and standardised assessment. At what level(s) do you feel that thinking around how we design and facilitate assessment need to be?" Manu spoke about research she has conducted, which has enabled her to offer advice and guidance to schools about how to best enable students to succeed. When designing a programme of learning that, rather than looking at a package per year, rather all the standards need to be inter-linked, with ample opportunity to connect with the material. And having these links helps students to connect with this a lot stronger.

So how are your assessment 'lenses' now?

Manu closed by asking:
  • So how do you now view assessment for Māori and Pasifika learners?  
  • Was it a tiny adjustment to make?  Have the shape of your lenses totally bent out of shape? 
  • Does it inspire you to consider improving your views about how to make assessment more responsive to the needs of Māori and Pasifika learners?  Making it more high-tech? 
  • How are your lenses?  

Missed today's session or want to participate again?

If you missed today's session, you can access the recording of session, and also you can access the slides below.


  • Pasifika Patterns. CC (SA NC) licensed Flickr image by teachernz: https://www.flickr.com/photos/teachernz/3191268792/
  • Hawaiian Village. CC (BY) licensed Flickr image by US Embassy New Zealand: https://www.flickr.com/photos/us_embassy_newzealand/13023933753/
  • Maori Kids. CC (SA NC) licensed Flickr image by dicimijo: https://www.flickr.com/photos/dicimijo/441417770/
  • Locals. CC (BY NC) licensed Flickr image by AMERICANVIRUS: https://www.flickr.com/photos/americanvirus/4418566004/
  • Life through a lens. CC (BY NC SA) licensed Flickr image by Caro Wallis: https://www.flickr.com/photos/carowallis1/4274112043/
  • Pasifika achievement and e-learning. CC (BY NC SA) licensed Flickr image by Karen Melhuish Spencer: https://www.flickr.com/photos/karenmelhuish/8668105348/

Monday, April 28, 2014

In spite of everything: Learning against the odds

Students; captivated by a movie of themselves
Barriers are often thrown in place when eLearning is mentioned. Access, cost of owning a device, safety...the list goes on. However, when solutions are sought to issues, rather than accepting what may appear to be the insurmountable status quo, learners can take things way further than educators may imagine.

Sugata Mitra (whose video is included at the end of this post) is one such person. Sugata addressed a wide range of issues to put in place an initiative that had many nay-sayers. The ‘Hole-in-the-wall’ initiative is now widely known, as are the results. By addressing issues that were pretty much insurmountable for the local children, Sugata empowered young learners to figure out the technology by themselves, and in turn opened up a world of learning to them. These learners were able to creatively select, evaluate, internalise and externalise the information they found online and own it as ‘knowledge’.

Learners teaching learners

English: Students learning arithmetic. Locatio...
Since the first initiative Sugata’s vision has emerged as a global one where he calls for the development of cloud based schools (see video below) and a Self-Organized Learning Environments (SOLE). (You can find out more about SOLE and download a toolkit at the TED site.) What is more, Sugata has, through social networking and the ubiquitous nature of the Internet, inspired learners and educators around the world.

What this can look like in a school facing ‘barriers’

One such example; I was inspired by a story shared by Helen Martin toward the end of last year: How a Radical New Teaching Method Could Unleash a Generation of Geniuses. I had read it before and it had stayed in my mind, so re-reading it was a reminder as to why it had been so powerful the first time around. Imagine you are a student or educator at the following school:

The school serves residents of Matamoros, a dusty, sunbaked city of 489,000 that is a flash point in the war on drugs. There are regular shoot-outs, and it’s not uncommon for locals to find bodies scattered in the street in the morning. To get to the school, students walk along a white dirt road that parallels a fetid canal….Some people here call the school un lugar de castigo—“a place of punishment.” (source)

And then consider whether you might have moved from teaching “the government-mandated curriculum” that you feel is a “a waste of time”, to start researching and trialling different approaches that could empower and engage your students. Sergio Juárez Correa was one such teacher. Inspired by a video describing the work of Sugata Mitra. One of the first things Sergio did was group the desks and sit down to learn with the students - he also set the expectation with his students that they had potential, and that they could rise to this potential.

For the study of maths Sergio Juárez “began experimenting with different ways of posing open-ended questions on subjects ranging from the volume of cubes to multiplying fractions”. The resulting collaborative learning was “noisy, [and] slightly chaotic….the opposite of the sort of factory-friendly discipline that teachers were expected to impose. But within…[a short time], they had come up with the answer” (source).

The next step was to implement Sugata’s suggestion that children learn most effectively when they have access to the Web - not an easy task in the environment Sergio and his students worked in. Unfortunately, there was no resource for the school to access to the Internet directly.  “As a result, Juárez Correa became a slow-motion conduit to the Internet. When the kids wanted to know why we see only one side of the moon, for example, he went home, Googled it, and brought back an explanation the next day” (source).

The results?

“The previous year, 45 percent had essentially failed the math section, and 31 percent had failed Spanish. This time only 7 percent failed math and 3.5 percent failed Spanish. And while none had posted an Excellent score before, 63 percent were now in that category in math” (source).  Also incredibly exciting was the fact that one of the students, Paloma, achieved “the highest math score in the country, but the other students weren’t far behind. Ten got math scores that placed them in the 99.99th percentile. Three of them placed at the same high level in Spanish” (source).

International Student Orientation 5
 Interestingly, it is reported that Juárez Correa, while pleased that his students had done well, had mixed feelings about the fact that the students “had distinguished themselves because of a conventional multiple-choice test”, indicating that the exams limit the teachers and “test what you know, not what you can do, and I am more interested in what my students can do” (source)

By shifting the approach he was using for teaching to one that was focused on group work, creativity, and a student-led environment, his students thrived and grew, and that was what interested him. Not their achievement in standardised tests. Sadly, nothing has changed in the way of support or funding. Francisco Sánchez Salazar, chief of the Regional Center of Educational Development in Matamoros, is quoted as saying that “Intelligence comes from necessity” and that the students “succeed without having resources” (source).

Take aways?

Come with Us/The Test
This is a post that has been a long time in the writing, and I think, in part, it’s because I was trying to make sense of what the key take aways are - without being reductionist. There seem to be several things at play here:
  1. Students can learn even when faced with issues such as lack of resources and funding
  2. Regardless of location and education background, given time and access to basic resources, many students will grasp any possible opportunity that comes their way to learn...they are curious, applied and filled with wonderings. Often, these students will help each other to learn.
  3. Many students learn well when encouraged to be creative, collaborative, and to take ‘ownership’ of the learning
  4. Teachers who are global in their outlook, and self-directed in their own professional development and inquiry, can make major shifts in their own practice if they are open to changing their role and beliefs about how people learn
  5. National standardised testing appears to be something that restricts, and possibly even negates, 1 to 4 in the list above.
I wonder then, when there will be fundamental shifts in the way we test whether the education system is working - given that it appears that the testing itself is possibly undermining the system.


  • International student. CC licensed Flickr image by Penn State: http://www.flickr.com/photos/53130103@N05/4947783158
  • Veda Pathashala students learning. CC licensed Wikimedia image by Rhariram: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Veda_Pathashala_students_learning.jpg
  • Come with Us/The Test. CC licensed Wikipedia image by Chemicalfire 07: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Come_with_us_the_test.jpg
  • Students; captivated by a movie of themselves. CC licensed Flickr image by eltpics: https://www.flickr.com/photos/54942754@N02/6711545545
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Thursday, April 10, 2014

Dropping the ball to remain productive: Top tips for coping with emails

Scott Hanselman has written a post, shared by the wonderful Glen Davis, with a wealth of ideas around how to manage your email...and your ever growing to do list. One of the key things for me were the the "Four Ds" that Hanselman uses (from David Allen's Getting Things Done manual):
  • Do It
  • Drop it
  • Delegate it
  • Defer it
The 'drop it' one looked particularly useful, and Hanselman encourages the practice of 'dropping the ball'. He writes that "though this sounds irresponsible, this will lead you to feel better about yourself as you'll be better able to focus in on your work rather that juggle responsibilities". In the post he offers some suggestions around how best to drop the ball without miffing the people with whom you work!
Glen notes that Hanselman's post "summarises quite well some of the key strategies for getting on top of email and being productive". He then goes on to say that "Of course reading this email, and then reading the following post will destroy your productivity goals for the next 15 minutes!"
Hanselman's post in full can be found at "Complete List of Productivity Tips".
Image: 'No Strings' . http://www.flickr.com/photos/21981149@N04/3336227189. ;Found on flickrcc.net.
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Thursday, March 20, 2014

Blended learning: The proof of the pudding

While blended learning** has been around for a while now, it is often the benefits*** that are focussed on rather than some of the issues (including an increased workload for facilitators, technological problems, and poor communication - Garrison & Vaughan, 2007) that providers of blended learning need to be aware of up front, and how these might be addressed to maximise the benefits for learners.
The Blended Learning Synchronous Learning project aimed to "identify, characterise, and evaluate technology-enhanced ways of bringing together on-campus and geographically dispersed students and engaging them in media-rich synchronous collaborative learning experiences" (source). As a result of the project, 7 case studies have been developed that "provide a better understanding of the issues that impact on the effectiveness of blended synchronous learning, which in turn can be used to enhance the practice of educators" (source), while also providing "practical guidelines for staff" (source).

The case studies

I'd highly recommend dipping into these case studies if you are already involved in facilitating blended learning, or are thinking about it:


** Heinze and Proctor (2004) define blended learning as “learning that is facilitated by the effective combination of different modes of delivery, models of teaching and styles of learning, and founded on transparent communication amongst all parties involved with a course” (p. 21)
*** Garrison and Vaughan (2007) go on to identify a variety of benefits for learners including:
  • increased student use of course resources outside face-to-face sessions;
  • opportunities to apply skills, concepts, and theories in authentic contexts;
  • opportunities for self-directed learning;
  • integration of online and in-class learning; variety of assignment / assessment types and formats;
  • flexible access to interactive tools and resources that meet a range of learner needs; and
  • further peer to peer interaction and critical dialogue. (Adapted from Garrison, & Vaughan, 2007, p. 35)  


  • Garrison, R., & Vaughan, N. (2007). Blended learning and course redesign in higher education: Assessing the Role of Teaching Presence from the Learner Perspective. Retrieved May 12, 2007, from http://www.ucalgary.ca/
  • Heinze, A., & Proctor, C. (2004). Reflections on the use of blended learning. Paper presented at the Education in a Changing Environment, University of Salford, UK. Retrieved June 10 2005, from the Salford University Web site: http://www.edu.salford.ac.uk/her/proceedings/papers/ah_04.rtf.


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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Make sure you have more than one inspiration: Finding Balance

Finding balance between life and work is an ongoing challenge for most people. Today's webinar (facilitated by Dave Burton, Heather Eccles, and Vicki Hagenaars) was designed to provide some tools and practical suggestions for thinking about how we can work toward achieving some sort of balance.

The model is designed to shift us from inspiration to reality, and rise to the challenges that will help us fulfil the things you are inspired to do.

Map of Meaning: A model

The key model discussed was the Map of Meaning (originally developed by Marjolein Lips-Wiersma, Lani Morris, and Patricia Greenhough). The tool was unpacked during the session and stories shared that opened discussion to help us find ways to recognise and value how we balance the demands of life and work - from reality to inspiration. Some of the key areas of behaviour were:
  • Developing the Inner Self – Developing oneself and one’s resources. 
  • Unity with Others – Building and maintaining relationships. Dave suggests that there is less and less time at work to 'chew the fat', to build relationships.
  • Expressing Full Potential – Promoting or representing oneself, taking oneself to market. One element of this is "exercising one's mark and putting it on the table so that others can hear it and respond to it. For example, a head of department needs to be aware of what you have done". 
  • Service to Others – Delivering the goods. This one has "much more of an action to it. Doing what one says one will do. It's rather more practical and involves doing the things and getting the results".
The top two are more about being, and the bottom two are more about doing.

Several participants indicated that "I don't find it easy to promote myself. I am much more a team player", and "I don't promote myself to any great extent either so I can sympathise and empathise!". This led to a discussion about the discomfort many people feel 'putting themselves out there' and promoting ourselves, but the positive outcomes that can come about when you take the plunge are well worth facing this discomfort. Gaylene indicated that she finds it easier to talk about her strengths when they are framed within the notion of what other folk think about you. Heather suggested that " I find another less scary way to promote yourself is to suggest what you think - and ask for feedback - as a learner". Lorraine observed that "Relational trust is huge. This is one of the barriers students have with anyone in our community". Another interesting question was posed " Also, what spaces do schools create for staff to shine. We have this ideas that often the answers are in the room - but do we give staff a platform for their voice?".

How do we know when we have done enough to stop? Our jobs are about serving others, so actually getting to a guilt-free spot about doing some of these other things can be challenging. There was a lively discussion and sharing about the impact on health when expectations at work are seen as unreasonable. There was mention of "running myself ragged", "overdoing it", feeling replaceable and disposable by employers. One of the strategies that was mentioned was shifting the stress and feelings about these types of things allows you to be more comfortable with yourself, and promote what you are capable of. This serves self and community, and also increases confidence.

One participant shared that "I put in way too many hours into my job. I don't really find a lot of time to fit other things in and I find my job all-consuming". Dave said that "I know from my own experience that getting locked into any of the quadrants is a recipe for burn-out. So, it's not so much 'can I afford to spend time in the other quadrants', rather it's a case that 'can I afford not to'?". Another strategy that Dave mentioned was thinking about other things that inspire you outside of work..."it's having those inspirations that motivates you and brings more of the balance". Sometimes you need to focus away from goals, and go back to inspirations.

Vicki's experiences

Vicki shared some of her experiences as well as some great images to illustrate some of the points she made. For example, she showed a lovely photo of herself that was taken before she went to her first eFellow session, and how it feels as though it was "a huge risk", and in some ways "not deserving of some of the accolades that are already starting to come". Vicki emphasised that looking after herself holistically is also hugely important, and she described some of the strategies that she has undertaken since starting to think about the map of meaning. These include going to the gym, spending time outside, and with her family. Some of the health benefits have been huge as the stress levels have reduced, and the family feel as though they aren't encroaching on work time.

Heather experiences

Heather described that the personal and professional are inextricable, and since using the map of meaning she has felt energised, excited, and keen to go to work. Recently she has also had a baby, which has re-defined her life, and she is trying to build a relationship with her new son and "with other new mums". In another sense she is feeling disconnected from her professional community, so she is using social media extensively to help maintain these relationships. Heather talked about the first time she 'took herself to market'. She was petrified beforehand, but the Iginite session she gave went well, and she got great feedback, which was a taste of some of the positives of putting yourself out there.

Cultural dimensions of self-promotion

Madeline asked "is there a cultural dimension that impacts self-promotion??", and Heather responded "Good point Madeline - I'm thinking of Pasifika communities where the collaborative is huge and the individual not valued as much", and Rosey suggested that "I guess it depends on the individual. For some people, the cultural aspects are very important".

This was a super presentation with some incredibly valuable opportunity to reflect, share and recognise that there are many other folk experiencing the same sense of struggling to find balance. If you missed out on it, please follow up via the recording below.

Questions to consider

You are invited to consider the same questions that were posed during the question:
  1. How’s the relationship between what really moves you?
  2. What’s your self-development strategy and how is it going?
  3. How often are you able to have meaningful, perhaps challenging, conversations with your peers?
  4. To what extent do others understand what you’re really on about?
  5. What sense of being useful in the world (or your part of it) do you have?
  6. Do you get a chance to pause and reflect on how you are going?
  7. Who gets first call on your time; you or those around you?

Missed the session?

If you missed the session you can always access the recording, here:

And you can watch a video about the map of meaning here:


  • Balance. cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo by James Box: http://flickr.com/photos/b0xman/2622396232/
  • Balancing lady. cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo by Helen ST: http://flickr.com/photos/orangebrompton/224649987/
  • Balance. cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo by Neil Lewis: http://flickr.com/photos/nthei/392707302/
  • Identity finders. cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo by James Box: http://flickr.com/photos/b0xman/2622403996/

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Dramatic engagement that leads to understanding complex ideas

Brian Edmiston (from Ohio State University) offered a session at the Te Toi Tupu hui in Hamilton. Brian is a professor of drama in education. He has a focus on both the practical and the scholarly and looks into how we can build engagement at the same time as mediating complex learning. As such, he is studying ways of enhancing learning with active and dramatic approaches – across disciplines. In particular, he aims to encourage higher order thinking and increasing leaners' understanding of complex ideas.

Brian has his roots in Ireland, and now has his home in America. As such, he has a bi-cultural view of the world, and has a good understanding of the differences between dialogue and monologue. In monologue, people and the institutions that give them authority, seem to treat other people as objects that can be used and discarded. Shutting down dialogue because of a sense of superiority is negative. Dialogue, in contrast creates conditions where people can recognise the conditions for people to reach out to one another.

Edmiston, says that "challenging authority is something that children need to learn to do, when it's the "right thing to do". Dialogue doesn't necessarily mean the use of the spoken or written work, but rather it is something that can happen even where there is no shared 'language', but there is shared human experiences. Teachers need to make sure that the conditions exist for dialogue, and Edmiston suggests that this transformation of learning spaces "needs to be honoured and valued; it's never on a test".
The physical space is a fundamental aspect of this process, whereby desks can create barriers. On the other hand, sitting in a circle without physical barriers can open up the opportunity for dialogue and equal contributions - where everyone wants to learn. "In too many classrooms students are bored to death" because they aren't engaged and don't feel empowered to contribute, and do not feel included.

Jack and Jill (nursery rhyme)

Responsiveness to immediate needs is also essential. If a learner has had a traumatic experience, or who has been involved in family commitments, then acknowledging this and giving the person the space is as important as providing opportunities for equal engagement.

Edmiston's second value is "We're all in this together". Shared stories are an important part of learning and dialogue, especially if there is a "big problem" to be solved. It can lead to deep engagement. However, something needs to happen - there needs to be something to solve - "a big problem that we're going to dialogue about".  For example, some of the problems in Shakespeare's Macbeth - "should you do what your wife tells you?", "what do you do if your friend kills someone".

One of the points Edmiston made was that "we must want our students to achieve friendship". He referred to Maxine Greene's words:

Our classrooms ought to be nurturing and thoughtful and just all at once; they ought to pulsate with multiple conceptions of what it is to be human and alive. They ought to resound with the voices of articulate young people in dialogues always incomplete because there is always more to be discovered and more to be said. We must want our students to achieve friendship [and citizenship] as each one stirs to wide-awakeness, to imaginative action, and to renewed consciousness of possibility. (Releasing the Imagination, by Maxine Greene, Ph.D.).

Many of our learners are articulate, but are not much interested in dialogue apart from with their friends. So, shared stories, with problems that students care about, and can dialogue about, can help mediate complex learning. It's about understanding that people can be caught in difficult situations where blurry lines and double binds are the norm.

Edmiston closed by saying that "all we can do is try to understand each other, and try to do our best" - "in dialoguing problems...where no-one is excluded, this gives me hope that vital and transforming events can take place".

  • A French-speaking Canadian volunteer helps two Haitian students with their English. The volunteer was in Haiti with the volunteer group EDV to help recovery efforts after the earthquake in early June 2010. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
  • Jack and Jill (nursery rhyme) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
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Saturday, January 25, 2014

Why we need to keep asking the questions: Innovation and possible impact on health

For every sizeable innovation there are detractors and advocates. Think, for example, the television in the late 1950s, 60s and 70s. When it initially became available and affordable for many people, was going to open up education for the world (think Open University programmes from the UK, and the City Colleges of Chicago in the US). On the other hand, detractors felt it was undermining literacy skills, amongst other things. Newton Minow, in 1961, called television “a vast wasteland” (you can hear an extract from his speech here).

Hindsight now indicates that TV has not revolutionised the face of education, and people still read books.

The thing is - to have balance, we need both sides, and all the opinions in between - to ensure they are robust discussions about innovations that may, potentially, be game-changers, or harmful. We also need folks to keep re-assessing and re-visiting these discussions - to challenge what can otherwise become assumptions. The danger is that we can blindly assume that what science is apparently indicating is reliable; take for instance, Hormone Replacement Therapy. What initially appears to be a no-brainer positive, can sometimes turn out to be way less cut and dried, and on the other hand, what can appear to be negative, turn out to have some previously un-thought of benefits).

Bearing all of this in mind, this is what I suspect has been happening in the case of wifi. Which brings me to Wifi and tinfoil hats: An evidential approach (a post that was brought to my attention by Glen Davis). Recently, at Te Horo school, on the Kapiti Coast in New Zealand, wifi was recently turned off. It is all somewhat complex, with a number of sides to the story. The end result, though, is that the wifi has been switched off and I am left wondering, to what end?

Paul Matthews, the author of the post, indicates that intensity of EMFs was the key to the debate, and refers to Jonathan Brewer'sInside Telecommunications blog that includes the following table:
Type of Radiation
Power Level
Potential to be Harmful (heat can be felt)
Maximum Permitted in New Zealand
Highest Radiation Cell Phones (Avg of 20)
50 Watt Cell Phone Transmitter at 10m distance
Lowest Radiation Cell Phones (Avg of 20)
Wi-Fi Device Average between 0.5 and 2m distance

Matthews goes on to say that if you go by this table, “wifi would have to be 35,000x as strong as its current average to be potentially harmful to humans” (source). He also refers to the World Health Organisation's EMF Project, which has concluded after a review of over 25,000 scientific articles and research projects" that "Despite extensive research, to date there is no evidence to conclude that exposure to low level electromagnetic fields is harmful to human health" (source).

In addition, “the US National Cancer Institute[state that] there is no evidence from studies of cells, animals, or humans that radiofrequency energy can cause cancer” (source). In other words, “Following very comprehensive and ongoing research, there is absolutely no evidence of a link between exposure to wifi transmission and adverse health effects” [emphasis in the original] (source).

So - should everyone be turning off their wifi? It appears not. Extensive research to date is not indicating any cause for alarm. As, the author of the post says, “Hopefully other communities around New Zealand will consider the science first and foremost” (source). However, that’s not to say ‘case closed’. Rather, let’s keep the conversations and the research current and open.

Would be great to read your comments and reactions.  

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