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!