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My Month of January

In response to my last newsletter, someone asked me whether my new job has allowed more opportunity to develop this newsletter. Although I spend more time commuting, I think the change has been the opportunity to engage with different elements of education every day. Doug Belshaw might say it has increased my serendipity surface. From my experience, it is not often in schools you grapple with overarching challenges. Instead, you are focused on a particular task and class.

In regards to January, I had time at home which involved fitting five weeks into two, as I only get four weeks a year with my new job. This meant trips to the beach, to the tip, to the cinema, to the zoo. Back at work, we are working on developing online modules to support teachers with technology.


In regards to my writing, here was my month in posts:


Here then are some of the thoughts that have also left me thinking …

Learning and Teaching

"Inquiry into Inquiry" by mrkrndvs is licensed under CC BY-SA

7 Super Screencasting Activities for School – Eric Curts unpacks a range of activities associated with screencasting. Not only does he provide step-by-step instructions, but he also includes actual examples of each.

Screencasting tools are a popular option for use in schools. At their most basic they allow you to record a video of what is on your computer screen, along with your voice, and depending on the program perhaps your webcam as well. Some may go further to provide you with annotation tools to write on or highlight portions of the screen while recording.

What Should I Buy For My New Makerspace? – Laura Fleming describes her five-step framework designed to help with setting up a makerspace. Beyond having a clear vision, Fleming suggests focusing on mobility, exploration, student interests, empowerment and relevance. To document some of these choices, she has reflected on the  choices made within her own context.

Selecting the right products for your makerspace is critical. In addition to my framework, I started a Padlet, in which members of my PLN contributed their thoughts on selecting products for a makerspace. I encourage you to read their thoughts, and contribute your own for us to all learn and grow from.

Desktop Zero: How To Manage Unproductive Digital Clutter – Ben Gremillion provides a range of tips and tricks for decluttering your computer desktop. From my experience, we spend so much time in school organising things like lockers and folders, how often do we support students digitally? Although there is no right way, this post is useful in thinking about this problem.

Turns out it’s more than just finding files. Studies show that people with less cluttered work environments are happier and more productive. Desktop zero helped me in a future job as well, when I’d give frequent presentations to clients. With my desktop picture set to the company’s logo, a clutter-free desktop helped my audiences focus on what I was presenting (and hid my behind-the-scenes work to boot).

Sorry, But Speed Reading Won’t Help You Read More – In an excerpt from Language at the Speed of Sight: How We Read, Why So Many Can’t, and What Can Be Done About It, Mark Seidenberg shares the secret to becoming a better reader and that is … reading. Not an app or speed reading strategy, the key to becoming a better reader is improving our knowledge, language and comprehension. This discussion reminded me in part of Donalyn Miller’s The Book Whisperer.

Reading expands one’s knowledge of language and the world in ways that increase reading skill, making it easier and more enjoyable to read. Increases in reading skill make it easier to consume the texts that feed this learning machinery. It is not the eyes but what we know about language, print, and the world— knowledge that is easy to increase by reading—that determines reading skill. Where this expertise leads, the eyes will follow.

10 Tips For Designing Effective Social Learning – Julian Stodd provides a list of considerations associated with social learning. It is interesting to compare this with discussions around Communities of Practice. What I like about Stodd's elabotations is that he recognises that every context and situation is unique. I think this is sometimes overlooked.

Ultimately, every organisation needs to learn the co-creative behaviours, design methodology, and facilitating roles that will operate best within their own unique culture and technical infrastructure. Above all, focus on design, not technology or assessment. Engagement will come through great design.

Establishing a culture of inquiry through inquiry – Kath Murdoch encourages teachers to begin the year with questions that can then be the start of a short inquiry, rather than the usual regimented style. For Edna Sackson this involves starting with the child. Sometimes the challenge with inquiry, as Sam Sherratt points out, is having permission.

Most of us begin the year by designing tasks/activities that facilitate community building. We want to get to know our kids – and we want them to get to know and relate to each other. Again – rather than over-planning the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ of this – try inviting the students to design questions and investigations:

  • How can we build a great community in this classroom?
  • What do we need we find out about each other?  How could we go about this?
  • What do we need to know about each other in order to start to build a great community?
  • How might we design this learning space to help us do the best learning possible?
  • What do you need/want to know about me as your teacher?
  • What would you love to learn about/learn to do this year? How might we make that happen?
  • What should I (as your teacher) learn about you?
  • What are you wondering about yourself as a learner this year?
  • What are you most curious about when you think about the year ahead?

This approach is still highly intentional – our purposes are still to get the year off to a productive and positive start and to build routines. A more inquiry-based approach sees students as collaborators in the design of those routines and, as a result, engages them in a more rigorous, accountable and fascinating process of culture building.


Edtech

"‘Don’t Blame the Tools" by mrkrndvs is licensed under CC BY-SA

Driven to Distraction – Emily Hehir highlights some of the challenges associated with technology in the classroom. She compares this situation to war. What stood out in her discussion was the notion that technology can make a difference. Although I recently discussed the impact of technology, I think it is important to highlight that it is always a part of a wider learning canvas.

Problematically, few teachers are trained in how to use technology in a manner that actually improves the outcomes previously achievable. Most schools have one or two "IT gurus" – teachers on staff whose personal interest has led to a process of classroom experiments with various apps and programs. All too often technology is a proxy for actual learning and is used as a reward, to simulate a task that could be done with a pen. At its worst, it just distracts.

Leave Your Laptops at the Door to My Classroom – Darren Rosenblum shares how he bans devices in his class. I feel that I have read this before a few years back via Clay Shirkey. What I think is missing within the conversation is what sort of teaching and learning is occurring? I do not mind the removal of student technology, but wonder if classes could be recorded even? Would this be a win win?

For all these reasons, starting with smaller classes, I banned laptops, and it improved the students’ engagement. With constant eye contact, I could see and feel when they understood me, and when they did not. Energized by the connection, we moved faster, further and deeper into the material. I broadened my rule to include one of my large upper-level courses. The pushback was real: A week before class, I posted the syllabus, which announced my policy. Two students wrote me to ask if I would reconsider, and dropped the class when I refused. But more important, after my class ends, many students continue to take notes by hand even when it’s not required.

The trials and tribulations of being a digital parent – Doug Belshaw shares his journey in choosing a device for his ten year old young son. It is interesting to compare this with Royan Lee's experiences choosing a phone for his teen daughter.

Parenting is hard, especially with your eldest child. You're making it up as you go along, especially in areas that no one has a lot of expertise, like the digital frontier. On the one hand, I don't like censorship and spying — which is why we're switching from BT to A&A for our broadband next week. On the other hand, there's an innocence to childhood that needs to be protected, especially when we're putting such powerful devices into such small hands.

Don’t Blame the Tools – Jose Picardo points out that blaming technology overlooks that the tool is only one part of the pedagogical canvas. I think things like SAMR can confuse the conversation. Instead, we need to start with a wider discussion of education.

What they fail to consider is that if technology is not the solution, it isn’t the problem either. The very word technology means “the science of craft”. Technology is nothing more and nothing less than the application of human knowledge to practical tasks. From this perspective, blaming technology for poor outcomes in schools is like a chef blaming his kitchen knife for having prepared a terrible meal.

If we forget to look out of the window – John Mikton reflects on 2016 and the need for more digital intelligence within the professional development in schools. He points out that the picture currently painted in schools is often in stark contrast to the reality of the world around us. Mikton also provides a number of links and resources for going further.

To be complacent is short-sighted in a school setting.  There is a tendency with school professional development to not explicitly address the digital reality that engulfs our lives as an essential part of our professional learning. Information and Media literacy are what frame our own democratic values: choice, perspective, empathy, resilience, and critical thinking. If we as educators are going to assign students critical thinking tasks and ask them to engage with media and information while juggling screen time in a complex digital landscape, we cannot be passive bystanders.

A lawyer rewrote Instagram’s terms of use ‘in plain English’ so kids would know their privacy rights – Amy Wang reports on the terms of services associated with Instagram. She also includes extracts from a lawyer, Jenny Afia, who rewrote the document in plain English. This reminds me of the site Terms of Service, Didn't Read designed to not only summarise Terms of Services, but also highlight aspects to consider.

You are responsible for any activity that occurs through your account and you agree you will not sell, transfer, license or assign your account, followers, username, or any account rights. With the exception of people or businesses that are expressly authorized to create accounts on behalf of their employers or clients, Instagram prohibits the creation of and you agree that you will not create an account for anyone other than yourself. You also represent that all information you provide or provided to Instagram upon registration and at all other times will be true, accurate, current and complete and you agree to update your information as necessary to maintain its truth and accuracy.

Busy as a … hashtag? – I have read posts about hashtags in the past from people such as Amy Burvall and Clive Thompson, but I have read nothing as thorough as what Ian Guest presents. Not only does he provide a history behind hashtags, but also a thorough list accounting for the different uses.

The hashtags which have drawn my attention during my research and from long before it, and the functions they have performed:

  • Curriculum areas – these hashtags assist those teachers who specialise in teaching particular areas of the curriculum like #asechat (Association for Science Education),  #GeographyTeacher or #engchat
  • Communities – groups of people who share a particular interest like the #mfltwitterati, #EduMatch or NZBTchat (New Zealand Beginning Teachers)
  • Geospatial – hashtags which help those in a particular region find one another and discuss local issues: #edchatie (teachers from Eire), #scotedchat (Scotland) and even individual school districts like #katyisdela (Katy Independent School District English Language Arts) which situates a particular curriculum area within a specific region.
  • Time-limited – these hashtags materialise for a particular time, often for the duration of an activity: #12daystwitter and #WeeklyBlogChallenge17
  • Celebration – hashtags promoting the efforts of others, like  our schools or pupils (#pedagoo), and sometimes the contributions of others (#ff).

Hello World – a new magazine for educators – Phillip Colligan provides the specs on a new magazine with news and tips by Raspberry Pi to be published three times a year. Alongside their Digital Making Curriculum, Raspberry Pi are providing number of resources to help teachers get going with technology in the classroom.

Hello World is available free, forever, for everyone online as a downloadable pdf.  The content is written to be internationally relevant, and includes features on the most interesting developments and best practices from around the world.

Google Sheets, Apps Script and Data Studio Resources: The Ultimate List for 2017 – Ben Collins curates a thorough list of resources associated with Google Sheets and Scripts. For GSuite, I think these are often underutilised.

Want tons of great Google Sheets, Apps Script and Data Studio resources in one place? Then you’ll love this list.  These are my go-to resources when I’m building spreadsheet applications for clients or developing content for this blog. I have hundreds of bookmarks on the subject but here I’ve whittled it down to just the very best.


Storytelling and Reflection

"‘Did Media Literacy Backfire?" by mrkrndvs is licensed under CC BY-SA

Media, Technology, Politics – Data & Society: Points – In light of technology, fake news and democracy, a group of researchers led by danah boyd have applied their thinking to a range of issues with some attempt to make sense of the current state of being in the US (and the world at large).

To document some of our thinking, we are releasing six pieces that look at different issues that we think are important for trying to make sense of the relationship between technology and current political dynamics in the US.

  1. In Hacking the Attention Economy, danah boyd describes some of the tactics and strategies that people have taken to manipulate old and new media for fun, profit, and ideology. This essay explores decentralized coordination efforts, contemporary information campaigns, and cultural logics behind gaming the system.
  2. In What’s Propaganda Got To Do With It? Caroline Jack brings historical context to the use of the term “propaganda,” arguing that the resurgence of this label amid social anxieties over the new media landscape is reflective of deeper cultural and ideological divides.
  3. Did Media Literacy Backfire? by danah boyd examines how media literacy education efforts to encourage the public to be critical consumers of information may have contributed to widespread distrust in information intermediaries, complicating efforts to understand what is real and what is not.
  4. In Are There Limits to Online Free Speech, Alice Marwick explores how the tech industry’s obsession with “free speech” has been repurposed (and newly politicized) by networks whose actions are often seen as supporting of hate speech and harassment.
  5. Why America is Self-Segregating is danah boyd’s attempt to lay out some of the structural shifts that have taken place in the United States in the last twenty years that have magnified polarization and resulted in new types of de-diversification.
  6. In How do you deal with a problem like “fake news,” Robyn Caplan looks directly at the challenges that companies face when they seek to address the inaccurate and often problematic content that is spread widely on social media sites.

Diversity is Hard – Building upon danah boyd's post on Why America is Self-Segregating, Jenny Mackness celebrates the importance of difference and why it is so important in a highly connected world. This reminds me of the ideas presented in Cathy Davidson's book Now You See It and her notion of 'collaboration by difference'

Respect for differences and an understanding of diversity is a key ethical rule for complex systems and no amount of retreating into homogeneous groups will help us cope with living in an increasingly complex world.

The MoonshotEdu Podcast – Bernard Bull has started a new ‘weekly’ podcast with a bang, pushing out ten different episodes in quick succession, covering everything from dreaming big, grades, self-directed learning and credentialing.

The MoonshotEdu show is a weekly podcast dedicated to challenging the status quo in education, exploring educational innovation and entrepreneurship, and getting more deeply informed about the possibilities in education. It is a place to celebrate curiosity, human agency, and a love of learning.

All I Know Is What’s on the Internet – Rollin Moe explains that discussions around fake news overlooks the real problem at hand, the death of subversive responses and the death of democracy. For if there is no voice from the outside then there will be little difference or discussion from within.

For the past 40 years, society has demanded information literacy of students, but effectively extolled the virtues of citizens as mass content consumers. Schools and libraries are not conduits of a knowledge society, but appendages of a knowledge economy. Instead of teaching students critical thinking, they have stoked decontextualized curiosity. Rather than develop students’ wisdom and character, they have focused on making their students’ market value measurable through standardized testing.

In Consideration Of Continuous Improvement: Part I – David Culberhouse discusses how to push forward towards a ‘better’ tomorrow in schools. He suggests considering the AND of 3I’s that can support an environment of ‘continuous improvement’ in our organizations, they are: Innovation AND Improvement Science AND Implementation Science.

First and foremost, this idea of ‘better’ and ‘continuous improvement’ requires a decision, a decision to become uncomfortable, both as individuals and as organizations.  For stretching ourselves towards this concept of ‘continuous improvement’ is not always a comfortable situation, as it requires learning, unlearning, relearning, shifting, adapting, and changing.  A beta mindset.

3 Injustices in Education – David Truss asks three questions we should consider when designing learning opportunities in schools. This discussion is further elaborated within Corey Engstrom’s Teacher Tech Trails podcast.

As educators we too have to ask the right questions, and I hope that the 3 I’ve asked here are helpful to you:

“How can we design our learning opportunities so that at some point during the school day, students get to work on something they are passionate about?”

“What is getting in the way of our student(s) excelling?”

“Are we challenging students enough, so that they are maximizing their learning opportunities?”

Is Goal Setting Pointless? – Bill Ferriter questions the purpose of goals. He suggests that our focus should instead be on systems. This reminds me of a discussion in Vivian Robinson’s book Student-Centred Leadership in which she questions setting goals when the outcome may not be known or defined. This is always an important conversation, but even more so at the beginning of the year.

Goals are destinations. Systems are vehicles that keep you moving forward — and moving forward is essential to winning.  “When you focus on the practice (systems) instead of the performance (goals),” writes Clear,  “You can enjoy the present moment and improve at the same time.”

100 things that made my year – Austin Kleon looks back at the things that made his year. This is fantastic as it captures so many aspects of his life.

Discovering and researching unschooling. Roberto Greco’s fantastic Tumblr and Pinboard archives. The work of John Holt, his books How Children Learn and How Children Fail, his 55-year-old journal entry, his thoughts on the true meaning of intelligence and how babies are scientists. John Taylor Gatto’s Dumbing Us Down. Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner’s Teaching As A Subversive Activity. Lori Pickert’s twitter. DH Lawrence on how to educate a child: “Leave him alone.” Manifesto of the idle parent.

Teaching with, alongside, and for one another – Corrie Barclay reflects on the importance of trust and feedback in developing the capacity of teachers and improving schools. This reminds me of the work of Alma Harris around distributed leadership and disciplined collaboration, as well as the work of Paul Browning on trust.

If each and everyday we have a greater impact on on our students and settings due to the continual improvement we make individually and collectively, we will without a doubt see our students and education systems flourish

The Ugly Unethical Underside of Silicon Valley – Erin Griffith digs beneath the gloss to uncover the unethical side of silicon valley and start-up culture. Whether it be breaking the rules, promoting products that don't even exist or making up growth percentages, there is always a dark side to the hype. For more on Silicon Valley, read this post by Ben Werdmuller, the Anne Wiener’s recount, Cory Doctorow's novel The Makers or listen to this episode of Future Tense.

No industry is immune to fraud, and the hotter the business, the more hucksters flock to it. But Silicon Valley has always seen itself as the virtuous outlier, a place where altruistic nerds tolerate capitalism in order to make the world a better place. Suddenly the Valley looks as crooked and greedy as the rest of the business world. And the growing roster of scandal-tainted startups share a theme. Faking it, from marketing exaggerations to outright fraud, feels more prevalent than ever—so much so that it’s time to ask whether startup culture itself is becoming a problem.

The Setup – Laura Hilliger provides a snapshot of her setup. I was particularly interested in her use of Scrivener, something that Julian Stodd also mentioned recently. The idea of documenting your workflow is associated with a website usethis.com. One thing that stood out for me about the list of other people who have shared on the website is that it is largely a male crowd? Another similar collection can be found at Royan Lee's blog. He often interviews people about their setup.

Well if we’re going to talk about dreams, I’d wish for a new computing platform entirely. No more keyboards and mice. No more monitors and power cables. I don’t know what it is, exactly, but my dream setup transcends modern computing and let’s me use my body more. I’d like to snap my fingers, open a display at eye level and swoop and swipe and stuff. Tony Stark style.


 

FOCUS ON … Medium

I have written about Medium before in comparison to other blogging platforms. One of the things I warn people about is being caught out if the private company decides to pivot and change what it offers. See Posterous. News arrived at the start of January that Medium is in fact looking to make some major changes. Here then is a collection of responses to the news:

  • Venture Capital is Going to Murder Medium – David Heinemeier Hansson explains that the fuse was lit for Medium's demise a long time ago when they accepted large amounts of Venture Capital without any idea how they could repay it.
  • Medium’s Pivot – Dave Winer warns that If Medium were to fail a lot of history will go with it.
  • Online Publishing Should Look At Steem, Not Spotify, For Inspiration – Fred Wilson discusses the possibility of a blockchain-based solution, where people gain tokens for writing depending on the popularity of the piece and purchase credits for reading.
  • Why Medium Failed to Disrupt the Media – Leonid Bershidsky explains that Medium has arrived at the same place as traditional media companies in struggling to find an effective funding model. She suggests that it is another example of Silicon Valley arrogance in thinking those before are always broken and in need of a fix.
  • A New Model for Medium – Fredric Filloux remains confident that quality will monetize at some point and that there is an audience out there who are in favour of good, paid-for, quality contents.
  • We Shouldn’t Wait for Medium – Discussing the positives and negatives to WordPress and Medium, Dave Winer suggests that we need a better designed WordPress or an open source Medium.
  • Medium And The Importance Of Maintaining Your Own Domain – Kin Lane says that, “we should not stop playing with new services, and adopting those that add value to what we are trying to accomplish online, but we should always consider how deeply we want to depend on these companies, and know that their VC-fueled objectives might not always be alignment with our own.”
  • Medium, and The Reason You Can't Stand the News Anymore – Shaun Blanda discusses the contradiction at play in funding digital news agencies with advertising.
  • Is Medium good for us? – Dave Winer discusses the problem of survivability associated with Medium.

READ WRITE RESPOND #013

So that is January for me, how about you? As always, interested to hear.

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