Saturday, September 4, 2010

'Rattling the Cage' - Stimulating A Staff Meeting Debate (or perhaps 'A Stimulating Staff Meeting Debate')

Recently I was asked to open at a school's Staff Development Day, not an uncommon event in itself, but this time the Principal and myself wanted to 'rattle the cage'. It's a nice school, with nice kids and nice staff in a nice suburb. However, a comfort zone is not necessarily a hotbed of innovation and dialogue around contemporary pedagogy.

As part of the Australian Federal Government's Digital Education Revolution the school currently has 1:1 laptops (Macbooks) in 2 year groups. The teachers each received a Macbook 2 years ago in preparation for the first 1:1 deployment last year. Teaching with 1:1 and other technologies varies at the school as it does in most schools.

I wanted to stimulate (possibly provoke) discussion around teaching practices plus a few fundamental ideals and ultimately for the staff to take ownership of any decisions made for progression. My vehicle for such an exercise was a 10 question Google Doc Form issued at the beginning of the day. The reasoning was simple, the Google Form:
- forced teachers to get onto the wireless at the beginning of the day (not a regular practice for everyone)
- allowed for anonymity
- was quick to complete
- provided a complete profile of feelings and opinions for the whole staff
- provided the data almost instantaneously to then be analysed as a group to stimulate discussion

The ten questions asked (on a scale from 'strongly disagree' to 'strongly agree') were:

1. I like to integrate technology in my teaching
2. Students would like to use technology in their learning
3. I would like my own children to utilise technology in their education
4. We are obliged to integrate technology in our teaching practices
5. eLearning opportunities have been integrated into every teaching program in my KLA(s)
6. I think using technology in the classroom can lead to better student performance and examination results
7. I prefer students to sit in rows and work quietly
8. I regularly photocopy/print resources for my students
9. Have you signed up for or completed the Web 2.0 course?
10. Do you own an iPhone?

(A copy of the survey file can be obtained here, please make a copy before editing/distributing (you don't want me to see your staff responses :).

It was a risky approach as I had no true idea as to the profile of responses the staff would generate or how the subsequent analysis and discussion would go.

The first 3 questions have to be looked at together. If there is a difference between #1 and #2, particularly if #1 is more negative, then there is tension in the classroom - the students want to use technology whereas the teacher doesn't. If #1 is more negative than #3 then we have a moral issue - teachers want their own children to utilise technology in their classrooms but do not want to undertake such practices in their own classroom with other people's children that they as teachers have responsibility for regarding their education. Fortunately, as a collective, the 3 question profiles were similar for the staff so I was able to draw attention to this and affirm accordingly. However, the conflicts of interest were highlighted should any individuals have responded as described above, hopefully giving them food-for-thought...

Question 4 really got the discussion going. What are a teacher's obligations? This is delicate ground as of course all teachers have contracts with terms and conditions as negotiated by the unions. However, as we discussed, there are many obligations to use technology in the classroom:
- Board of Studies requirements
- any new Australian Curriculum requirements
- the fact that some year groups are already 1:1 with more to come over the next few years
- with the Board of Studies et al looking at online examinations from 2013
- many teachers include eLearning in their Personnel Performance Planning and Review Record (PPPR)
- it is now part of any teacher's workload
- PD has been provided
- students are arriving in secondary schools with a high skills set and expectations from primary school
- as mentioned before, a moral obligation to the students we teach

The age old chestnut of "we don't have enough time" popped up as it always does. My answers are a) to provide schools and teachers with time through release for PD, b) replace any tired or defunct teaching activities with more contemporary ones (rather than add more on top), c) use technology to save time e.g. Google Doc Forms for tests and evaluations, Delicious for accessing/sharing resources and finally d) teachers need to be proactive in their learning - they cannot simply wait to be spoon-fed or released from class to learn.

#5 was interesting as most teachers recognised that eLearning opportunities should be provided for 1:1 classes but many forgot their obligations to provide such activities for the rest

#6 is always interesting as one often hears "the exams are hand-written so using technology in class will affect our exam performance". This is where a lot of the latest research comes in handy such as Chowdry et al 2009 (quoted in Becta 2009) stating

After controlling for KS3 results, the availability of a computer at home is significantly positively associated with Key Stage 4 test scores. This association amounts to around 14 GCSE points (equivalent to 2 GCSE grades in a single subject)

or Bebell and Kay for JTLA, 2010 stating:

this unprecedented two-year improvement in eighth grade Math pass rates across 'BWLI' settings corresponded with the years students’ participated in the 1:1 laptop program


after two years of 1:1 computing in school, 7th graders participating in the computer writing study wrote both longer and more highly scored open response essays when using their laptops than students responding to the same prompt using traditional paper and pencil.

#7 stimulated the whole debate about learning spaces, the flexibility offered by 1:1 and the fact that a teacher does not need to remain at the front of a linear class as the focal point (see BER Research Paper)

Similarly #8 helped highlight that schools could and should dramatically reduce their photocopying. If the resources are made electronically then is it far more efficient and less damaging to the environment to disseminate and view the resources electronically were possible.

#9 was more of a plug for some online PD, highlighting the flexibility of this format

#10 was a cheeky question with 2 hidden agenda. It turned out that 30% of the teachers own iPhones. I pointed out that every teacher at Martin Levins' school has been issued with an iPhone. At this there was a collective "Oooohhh!" This provided me with the springboard to ask why did that get such a response yet when teachers all received Macbooks 2 years ago some treated them like they were an anchor and chain - a Macbook is better than an iPhone! My follow up to #10 was "How much PD have you received on how to use your iPhone?" Of course the answer was nil. This helped highlight that teachers as well as students learn from trying and playing and teachers do not have to simply rely on limited PD to learn how to use modern technologies - just give it a go!

In conclusion, giving the staff the survey stimulated the discussion for the following 90 minutes. It allowed people to get things off their chest but also allowed everyone to see the profile of sentiments across the whole staff. The feedback from the session was positive, particularly from a traditional Maths teacher which pleasantly surprised me. Hopefully exercises like these will help a nice school become great school of contemporary teaching and learning.

Postscript - As a model, for simple (yet important!) tasks, like deciding where to go for the staff Christmas bash, I would again recommend a quick survey at the beginning of a meeting to prompt a collective debate.

Winning the Digital Education Revolution

Below is my prezi on 'Winning the Digital Education Revolution' as presented at the Fourth National Leading a Digital School Conference in Melbourne, September 2010.
In 2007 the Australian Federal Government announced that it intended to give secondary schools a 1:1 ratio of computers to students in 4 year groups over a 4 year period. As an organisation we bit the bullet and got involved straight away such that currently all of our secondary schools have 1:1 laptops in 2 or 3 of their year groups. The prezi goes through the key elements of our successful implementation. Please contact me if you wish further details.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Twitter in Education

Below is a Prezi on Twitter in Education. It looks at 3 aspects:
a) What is Twitter? - a brief overview including Tips for Teachers by David Hopkins
b) Twitter for Lifelong Learning - emphasising the benefits a PLN (Professional Learning Network) and how much educators can learn from and share with each other
c) Twitter in the Classroom - examples of how Twitter can be used in a classroom including 'Thirty Interesting Ways* to use Twitter in the Classroom' by Tom Barrett et al.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Cool Fun Web 2.0 Stuff

Here is a Prezi on 12 cool fun web 2.0 applications for the classroom. Some are classics and some are rare gems!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

'The Role of Interactive Whiteboards in a 1-to-1 Environment' Presentation from ISTE2010

This June I was honoured to present at ISTE 2010 in Denver. My presentation was entitled 'The Role of Interactive Whiteboards in a 1-to-1 Environment'. A SMART Notebook version of the presentation is available here. As I was sponsored by SMART (which I'm very grateful for and through whom I met some wonderful SMART Exemplary Educators) there is a bias in terms of IWB brand and some product placement which was unavoidable. However, the underlying message I hope has total integrity as it is based on the beliefs and experiences of myself, several colleagues and other great educators who chipped in their penny's worth.

As with any presentation, a full appreciation after the event is not achieved from a simple file unless you have a video, podcast or transcription to go with it. To this end a PDF version in Scribd is below plus a transcription for each slide within this blog post. Some of you may also gain amusement from an interview I gave, courtesy of Dr Ray Heipp and SmartEd Services.

The Role of IWBs in a 1-1 Environment.pdf

  1. My contact details also contained within the QR Code (my first attempt at QR)
  2. My 16 (+1) schools in South and South-West Sydney
  3. Video (not available unfortunately) - proof that I actually was a Physics teacher utilising an IWB day-to-day
  4. Video available on this link - IWB being used in a Primary context
  5. Video available on this link - the Australian 'Digital Education Revolution' - every Year 9 student receiving a laptop from the Federal Government
  6. As you can see, these Year 10 students have laptops, Macs or PCs, with SMART Boards in some rooms
  7. The main question behind this presentation
  8. {drag the picture down} = NO
  9. {drag the picture down} = YES
  10. {drag the picture down} = YES
  11. Demonstration of a Year 11 Physics experiment where a volunteer whistles into a microphone; the wave trace on the oscilloscope emulator is captured with the SMART Capture tool; the SMART interactive ruler is calibrated against the oscilloscope grid; the length of e.g. 8 cycles is measured e.g. 8.8; the length of 1 cycle is calculated e.g. 1.1; the time period is calculated by multiplying with the time based e.g. 1.1×5ms = 5.5ms - this experiment could be performed on a laptop but not collaboratively as is achieved on an IWB.
  12. Another activity, Year 12 Physics, best performed on an IWB (and specifically designed for use on an IWB. I know because I designed it). However, students can take it away after a group experiment to further investigate themselves on their laptop.
  13. I had posed the question of this presentation via the IWB Revolution Ning and received some great responses including Chris Betcher's straight-to-the-point remark from a chat we had "Don't apologise for teaching!" i.e. an IWB can and should be used as an effective teaching tool, it is not simply the domain of kids doing cute things on a board e.g. senior Physics is not intuitive; I have to introduce new material and explain before students can grasp it to then perform some activity on an IWB, laptop, where ever.
  14. {drag the picture down} = YES, as previously explained, a concept could be introduced by a teacher through an IWB, given to the students to work on on their laptops, then possibly feedback interactively through the IWB
  15. {the first 2 columns are 'infinite clone' so each word could be dragged into the 3rd column}
    IWB + 1:1 = More than the Sum of the Parts
  16. SMART Notebook file (unavailable as yet) - Year 10 Commerce - students receive random occurrences to simulate what life might be like when students leave home e.g. flatmate moves out so they have to pay double rent and hence budget accordingly
  17. Video (unavailable unfortunately) - shows a similar activity with the students each spinning the interactive random wheel in front of each other. Easily done on a laptop but performed on the IWB allows the students to understand that some people are lucky in life and some aren't. Students can then go back and work on their individual projects and budgets on their laptops
  18. Predicting the future (slightly gratuitous SMART product placement) - smart tables will soon be upon us (not just in school but in our local coffee shops) and iPads have just arrived. What technologies will we have in the future and how will they work together?
  19. Explained in an earlier blog post
  20. IWBs are not environments in their own right, they are part of a larger learning space that is hopefully flexible. Introducing laptops into the space again demands that the space is flexible
  21. Some examples of contemporary learning spaces
  22. Video (not available unfortunately) - shows the mini-ampitheatre (carpeted) within a double 'classroom' with glass partitions at Parramatta Marist High School during a cross-curricula lesson of RE and Technology!
  23. Research paper I co-wrote on contemporary learning spaces
  24. Explained in an earlier blog post
  25. Thank yous. Note the final paragraph- Special thanks to the following artists for giving written permission for use of their music in the opening video: Sneaky Sound System 'I Love It' and The Grates 'Science is Golden' (get students to seek permission to use music rather than copy it illegally!)
  26. Obligatory SMART slide

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

'Aristotlean' Model of Contemporary Learning

There are many models of contemporary learning which have the student at the centre such as the CEO iLE@RN Model. Building on this, as part of my ISTE presentation on 'The Role of IWBs in a 1:1 Environment', I wanted to come up with a contemporary learning model, again with the student at the centre, but this time looking at the physical location (as opposed to the philosophical position) and the technologies that could facilitate this. To this end I came up with what I've termed the 'Aristotlean' Model of Contemporary Learning.

The term 'Aristotlean' was chosen with reference to the appearance of Aristotle's geocentric model of the universe (you can take the teacher out of Physics but you can't take the Physics out of the teacher!)

Taking this a step further, I wanted to emphasise that with 1-to-1, students could be learning at school, home, even dare I say it McDonalds, all the time working within the cloud via wireless:

Obviously with mobile learning this opens up so many possibilities for students to access anything, anytime, anywhere. Even with fixed devices such as IWBs in certain learning spaces i.e. school, students are still able of working within the cloud. Yet, whatever the scenario, students are always at the centre of learning, both physically and metaphorically.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Knowledge Consuming or Knowledge Creating?

Supposedly I shall be receiving an iPad to 'play' with shortly, prior to some trials in some of our schools. Am I excited? More curious (I have to support schools with Mac or PC so have no zealous affiliation either way) yet I'm excited about the possibilities in schools. However, in conversations, blogs and tweets I am hearing and reading lots of naysayers harping on about the iPad's shortfalls. Problems with school wireless, security breaches and not being able to edit in Wikispaces I'm sure will be sorted out in due course. A bigger issue for me is the problem with Flash (I'm a big user of Prezi for instance) but maybe such applications with migrate to HTML5? However, I can't buy the argument that is now almost a cliché: "its for consumption not knowledge creation". More and more we are moving to 'cloud computing'. We can create and collaborate on documents, audio edit, video edit and more all within the 'aether'. The iPad is a Cloud device. It is not a problem not having a USB port, use The biggest problem, particularly in Australia, in the short-term is bandwidth. In a few years time we will look back and wonder what the fuss was about. Everything will be in the cloud and we won't need tonnes of ports. The one thing missing in all of the posturing by adults is the students' opinions. They will love using iPads and similar devices in the classroom and will find ways of achieving many of the outcomes we adults say are impossible.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Latest Research on the Impact of Technology on Student Performance

With the Australian Government giving every Year 9 student a laptop and some of these students now in Year 11, I am forever being asked how this 1:1 program will affect student performance in various subject areas. Accordingly, I'm about to embark on postgraduate studies to investigate this. As part of the preliminary Literature Review I have focused particularly on the Becta Harnessing Technology Review 2009, JTLA 2010 report One to One Computing:A Summary of the Quantitative Results from the Berkshire Wireless Learning Initiative and the OECD 2010 publication Are the New Millennium Learners Making the Grade?. My superiors were very impressed with the evidence, particularly from the Becta report. To this end I have made a Prezi (of course!) summarising the findings:

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Jing, swf and Prezi

I've been enjoying a lot of success recently with Prezi (as you can probably tell from my various Prezi posts). However, I've been wanting to jazz them up. Then I came across the following Prezi by Balázs Turai on 'Animations in Prezi'

This highlighted that Prezi loves .swf (Shockwave Flash) files, often simple, yet fun animations.

This started me looking for fun swf animations to put in my Prezis. The easiest thing to do is copy and paste from other Prezis (using ctrl C and ctrl V on your keyboard rather than right-clicking - Prezi works on Flash which doesn't like right-clicking) such as the one above e.g. the Scientist with the microscope. I then started looking further afield and came across a few problems:

1. Trying to insert swf files I already had from e.g. student projects didn't seem to work
2. Using swf files obtained via Firefox as explained in didn't seem to find their way into Prezi
3. Doing an Advanced Google search for swf brought up pages that were totally Flash and I couldn't use Firefox as described in #2
4. So far I haven't found any decent creative commons banks of cool swf animations either.

If anyone knows the solutions to any of the above please let me know.

However, then I remembered Jing makes swf files in video mode. Fantastic! Jing will screen capture a particular area as an instant image (jpeg) or over time as an animation (swf). Now for example I was able to capture a Voki (animation not sound for some reason) as a swf and insert in my Prezi. (In my ineptness I can't seem to upload my swf into Blogger, so see final product at the end. Of course it would be easier if one could just embed a Voki (or anything else for that matter) in Prezi as you now can with YouTube). The great thing is swf animations play in a loop so they are great to have as introduction shots in Prezis (so not having sound via Jing for whatever reason is a good thing otherwise there would be various looping audio too).

So until I find a great bank of swf animations I'm making my own using my on screen action and Jing. Here is my latest example including swfs via Jing from Voki and a student sample of work:

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Prezi Templates

It occurred to me that we could make Prezi look really cool if we had some familiar, iconic templates. Could this be the start of 'Prezi Art'? I don't know if I'm the first person to do this but here is my attempt at a cool template - the classic iPod outline (what is particularly sweet is that you can embed a YouTube video into the screen!).

Prezi of 2010 Horizon Report

Monday, February 22, 2010

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Knowledge is No Longer Power, Collaboration Is

Last year I had a few embarrassing moments where I was accessing the latest contemporary eLearning publications and sharing these with colleagues well before Head Office was informed by conventional routes. Fortunately our structure is relatively flat and very collaborative, particularly amongst the eLearning Team. The Head of eLearning asked me how did I get all of this information somewhat instantaneously, did I have the best RSS feeds around? My one word answer was Twitter (

By ‘following’ some key people I have found myself informed of the latest publications, resources and thinking around eLearning. Thanks to (@educationau) I found the SICTAS ‘Annual Report on Emerging Technologies’ immediately. Thanks to Allison Miller (@theother66) I came across ‘2010 Horizon Report Preview’ in 2009! Only the other day Andrew Churches (@achurches) informed his network of the Becta report ‘The impact of digital technology’. All of these publications are extremely useful, particularly when happened upon almost immediately. By following Tom Barrett (@tombarrett) I am privy to his excellent, collaborative, online presentations in Google Docs on various eLearning applications e.g. ‘Twenty-Nine Interesting Ways to use Twitter in the Classroom’. All of these resources empower me in my job as eLearning Adviser and as a lifelong learner. I can subsequently inform my network of teachers, schools and advisers of such information, thus empowering them.

As Matt Wells (@mbw_61) informed me, a student can now download the whole of Wikipedia onto an iPhone. This means students can have immediate access to far more information than any teacher holds in their head. Accordingly, the balance of power in the classroom has changed if it is only about knowledge and recall. (Fortunately we are evolving teaching practices to push higher order skills than ‘remembering’ such as ‘creating’ (see Blooms Digital Taxonomy)). Rather than being a vessel of knowledge, teachers (and students) can attain true power by collaborating with a wide variety of people. The easiest way to collaborate these days is through Web 2.0 applications and social media such as Twitter, Google Docs and Nings. Rather than simply ‘knowing’ their subject, a teacher can now find various ways of exploring it using contemporary media or keep themselves informed of the latest classroom activities or better still, share their work with the world.

People no longer have to wait for the traditional powerbrokers (teacher, employer etc.) to disseminate what limited information they discern as appropriate for the consumer. By collaborating with each other online, anyone can find out anything, anytime, anywhere.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Reinventing the Wheel is No Bad Thing … it is a Necessity

Towards the end of last year a couple of teachers from different schools approached me asking when ‘we’ (the System) were going to create or compile a complete set of Powerpoints or SMART Notebook files so they could teach their respective subjects. Their reasoning was that there was no point in them ‘wasting time’ and reinventing the wheel.

I have a few issues with this request:

• Since when has the preparation of lesson materials not been the responsibility of the classroom teacher?
• What pride or depth of knowledge in such resources would these teachers have to best engage the students?
• Does one size fit all suddenly?
• If all we had to do was flick through the slides of a presentation, why bother having a teacher at all?
• This is awful pedagogy! Going through someone else’s material slide by slide for any length of time is not teaching. Unfortunately however, this is still a regular practice amongst some teachers just as going from one page to the next in the textbook.

Hiding my irritation, I pointed out to one teacher that if he simply wanted a Powerpoint on any subject matter all he had to do was an Advanced Google Search, selecting ‘ppt’ as the file type.

For example there are 54,200 ppts on Nutrition alone.

However, I suggested that he could not rely on the quality of these resources and would have to spend time discerning their relevance. I also pointed out that this was very teacher-centred and considering that every student now has a laptop (thanks to the Australian Government’s Digital Education Revolution wouldn’t he rather engage his students in something more student-centred where they could take ownership of the work they produced.

For me, ‘ownership’ is the key. We know this works with students, that they take pride in their work when it is their own creation. This is also the case with teachers. If we create a resource we will have done so knowing the individual needs of the students, the context in the curriculum and how it will fit into the overall lesson plan. Every year our classes are different plus we all teach with an individual style. Therefore reinventing the wheel is no bad thing … it is a necessity. We should continually adapt and evolve our resources and those created and shared by colleagues.

As a Physics teacher I was lucky enough to borrow some wonderful resources (Powerpoints ironically) created by Greg Pitt of Hurlstone Agricultural College. They were ‘definitive’ and literally addressed every dot point in the syllabus. However, if I was simply to go through every slide with my own class they would not come close to achieving the results that Greg’s class did and would be bored witless. What I had to do was take the real gem aspects and integrate them into my own teaching. By reviewing the materials at my fingertips I was able to customise the experience to my students and exhibit a depth of knowledge that the students would value, responding to my sincerity and belief. No teacher can (should) stand tall and look a student and their parents in the eye if all they have done through the course is flick through the same old material that they and their colleagues have been doing so for years. I know for a fact that Greg adapted his own resources regularly and integrated them all within some excellent practical activities, hence his outstanding results.

A common scenario that excuses many teachers (in their eyes) to not take ownership of their delivery is when they find themselves teaching a subject for the first time. However, it is not good enough to say a subject is not one’s specialism or it’s not the class one signed up for. In this situation more than ever a teacher has to prepare their own materials so as to pre-empt the problems the students will raise and deepen their own understanding. This is where collaboration comes in. Functioning as part of a Professional Learning Community and sharing resources means that teachers can mutually support each other. It does not mean that one teacher or Coordinator (or System) makes all of the resources and everyone else dispenses them without ownership, responsibility or accountability.

Interestingly, another System (the largest in the State), has gone to great lengths and prepared resources for every point on the syllabus such that their teachers will be able to have their students use their laptops (or netbooks in this case) provided by the Government in the classroom. I would suggest that conscientious teachers will adapt these with their own work but many will take no ownership and simply issue the worksheets and instructions as they are.

As a postscript, in a year when we achieved our best ever results, the teacher who asked about the Powerpoints has just received the worst exam results in his school. I would suggest that this is not because he lacked a full set of slideshows.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Picnik and Jing

I was recently using Jing for screen capture (still and video). However, the latest update requires the Administrator to install it - I still don't have full Admin rights on my laptop, ridiculous I know! Fortunately I read a tweet from Judy O'Connell @heyjudeonline about the Picnik Add-on for Firefox. Now all I have to do is right-click and and a screen shot is taken by Picnik which can then be edited within Picnik. Too Easy! I love the fact that this processing is done in the 'cloud' and I don't have to download and install any software (that being said, Jing is very good, particularly for capturing video of what takes place on screen).

Monday, January 4, 2010


My first attempt at Prezi. I'm using it for a workshop on Google Docs. Both Prezi and Google Docs rock!

New Year's Resolution

Ok, I'm not used to making New Year's Resolutions but this year I am going to try and maintain this blog as a means of recording and sharing any great eLearning ideas and resources I come across. I will also continue to maintain my microblogging on Twitter - and social bookmarking on Delicious -

Here's to a great and collaborative 2010!