Monday, 29 September 2014

In the wake of dirty politics and the election: digital technologies enabling skulduggery

Now the election is over and I can't be accused of political advertising or attempting to influence people's voting, it is time to talk about how digital technologies have aided and abetted skulduggery in the political sphere.

I have been fascinated by the machinations that ensued since Nicky Hager's book was published (a book worth reading, by the way). In association with that, I read a study about career politicians in New Zealand and how, because their backgrounds are conflating, drawing from an ever-decreasing circle of people, it is harder, the author Geoffrey Miller says, to tell policies apart, except at the edges. Instead, he argues, this conflation results in ad hominen - the personal attacks and demonising of political opponents rather than a discussion of ideas. In other words, dirty politics was probably an inevitable outcome of this narrowing of the kinds of people entering the political arena as a career, as well as the intensification of global influence, especially of right-wing views (particularly emanating from the American Republicans lobby) that aim to concentrate power, influence and money in the hands of the few.

Not withstanding this political side of things, it has been interesting to ponder the role digital technologies has played in this grubby mess of attack politics, and the implications this might suggest about education.

The chronology over the Dirty Politics saga goes something like this: Cameron Slater posts on his site comments about the death of a young man, calling him feral and no loss to humanity (I'm paraphrasing). The family, now having lost that son and one in the Pike River mining disaster is understandably angry. Apparently, so is someone else - possibly associated with this family- who proceeds to hack Slater's blog and Facebook accounts, siphoning emails and messages galore. These end up with Nicky Hager whose book exposes not only the politics being played out on Slater's blog, but also the players - some of whom are associated closely with the very pointy end of government and the Beehive.

The hacker decides to reveal these exchanges via Twitter, making them accessible to all, then activates 'burn protocol' once Cameron Slater's injunction via the courts about further publication is made:

The role that social media in particular and the digital space in general has played, is crucial. Whaledump2's tweet encapsulates this saying, "If I didn't do this, who would have? If I didn't do it this way, how could it have been done?"

Without it, Slater and his 'sources and contacts' couldn't have created the kinds of campaigns they waged against individuals in order to further their own agendas, whether paid or otherwise. Facebook and email were the tools in trade of these people.  Without it, their machinations would not have been revealed, and without it, Whaledump2 would not have been able to share the information. Nicky Hager would have no book, and I would not have spent two and a half nights reading it. Without it, mainstream media (MSM) would not have been able to publish lazy copy, and without it, we wouldn't have been alerted and been any the wiser.

Twitter as a platform has been especially interesting, for it enabled Whaledump2 to share as zip files, these hacked email exchanges to anyone who cared to find them. It meant a whole lot of people could show support. It also meant that Cameron Slater really needed a court injunction to halt any more information spills, since his shenanigans, hypocrisy and those who he dealt with were hung out as dirty laundry. Following the #dirtypolitics hashtag has been very illuminating, for it has presented individuals' opinions on this over quite a long period of time, providing all sorts of links to follow up.

So, while digital technologies, social media and fast broadband mean we have a lot at our fingertips, we are learning that (at the risk of mixing too many metaphors) when we lift up too many stones, we might find a lot of dirt and unpleasant insect life underneath. This highlights how careful we must be to act as honestly and truthfully as we can when other people's lives, livelihoods, attitudes, values and behaviours can be splashed across front page news - all through innuendo and for underhand agendas. It also highlights how the 'truth will out' one way or another. Digital footprints make retraction very difficult and traceability a reality. Whaledump2's decision to destroy the computer hardware in the wake of the injunction preventing further revelations was therefore a necessary precaution.                                                                        
So what does this have to do with education? 
As educators, this whole saga becomes a rich source of salutary lessons on so many fronts. The teachable moments arising from this might lead to explorations on the topics of  things like:
  • online safety
  • cyber bullying
  • ethics, integrity, honesty
  • verifying information, opinion/bias, political agendas, 
  • the language of persuasion
  • social change.... 
As part of the importance of educators making learners aware of different points of views on topics and issues, here is a counter-view of the 'Moment of Truth' event that was generally panned by the MSM afterwards. I add it here because it raises questions about how well we can rely on our media to be ethical and fearless in presenting well-researched and critically aware perspectives, to properly represent events. For example, it was widely reported that our Prime Minister called  Glenn Greenwald, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, someone else's 'henchman'. This reporting spread the intention to deride and undermine his credibility, but did not provide much of an examination of the likely veracity of this statement. We must be alert to such descriptions and examine them before believing one side or the other, and/or promoting one view over another. Whose interests are served?

It is also important to examine how the flow of information works. This blog post is a very good example of an academic using his 'conscience of society' requirement to find out and publicise information, but having to be circumspect in doing so because of the way the processes of undermining of credibility is likely to be serving very particular interests.

We also owe it to those we teach to ensure they are cognisant of their online actions and data and how these actions may detrimentally affect others. Reviewing, rewriting, rethinking before posting are wise cautions. Verifying information is also important and is a necessary process to emphasise at every level of education. The simple question that asks How do you know? is crucial. Expecting students to pose that question to interrogate what they find on the web, is I believe, a core task every teacher should facilitate with students - and as often as possible. Cyber-safety is a double-edged sword - minding our privacy and that of others is important, as is the ethical behaviour which is about not doing harm. Establishing whether or not other people's revelations are about the public interest or the serving of corporate or political interests is also hugely important so we don't end up  being implicated in less than honest or ethical purposes.

We welcome your own thoughts on this.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Becoming a Connected Educator

In preparation for October Connected Educator Month 2014, this is what I am doing and planning. What are you doing in October?

Looking forward to a teaching network discussion with Alan Levine on 3 Oct: Networked teachers: A story of open, connected educators

I’m following @edconnectr #CE14 and @ConnectEduNZ #CENZ14

And thanks to my colleague Nigel for the heads-up on this.

I just had my first TweetMeet with students last week. Having used twitter as a backchannel for the classes I teach, I thought it time some of us meet synchronously, following the model of #edchatnz and #whatisschool

We negotiated a time via Moodle, and logged in at 11am on Wednesday morning, using the hashtag #prof211meet

Just six of us took part, as an optional activity, and this was a nice gentle way to start out. We had a fairly unstructured discussion, talking about how things are going generally, addressing a few questions about the paper, and tentatively finding our way, swapping advice and encouragement. Some more experienced participants raised discussion questions about significant learning. The intended 30 minute slot flew by, turning into 40 minutes of live tweets and the depth of content coverage was somewhat limited.

We have continued our reflections asynchronously and in Moodle, reminding classmates who could not make the synchronous TweetMeet that they can access the tweets to review the discussion. In the meantime, we also have a general paper hashtag at #prof211 to encourage tweeting throughout the semester.

As I’ve shared with the class, I enjoyed 'talking' (i.e., tweeting) as a small group. It reminded me of times I have been at education conferences and we have used a conference hashtag (e.g., #wcelfest or #tefanz2014).

I found it went well, my initial thinking is:

Pros: - was fun, nice to be spontaneous and together, I felt it helped some people who were new to Twitter to dip their toes in, and this is in turn helpful for the upcoming report on their social media challenge. We talked about some relevant stuff like: the current module of work, use of tools, who to follow on Twitter (@mrs_hyde and @enablelearning), what we are learning and other experiences of TweetMeets.

Cons: - a bit hard to follow until you get the hang of it. Slow typing slows everything down. If the hashtag isn't added, your tweet isn't in the stream. The short character limit can be a constraint. Time went really fast and little was covered in 40 mins.

I found it helped to copy and paste the hashtag each time, and to move between my notifications and the hashtag stream so that I didn't miss anything. I alternated between replying to individuals and tweeting out to the group, which was quite satisfying.

How might we expand things next time?

I’m currently negotiating this with the class, and we are thinking next time around we might:

  • Extend the time, perhaps to an hour. Participants can always dip in and out during the time, as well as revisiting later. We are planning an evening timeslot next time around, to cater for those who work fulltime and have children. We can schedule TweetMeets at various times to spread the opportunities, just as we do with other synchronous events such as our eCoffice meetings via Moodle chat.
  • We are thinking a focus question or 3 might be useful.
  • We may invite special guests, any takers?

In the meantime, we continue our asynchronous tweets in between TweetMeets. I tend to approach these by tweeting directly from media sources. So, I read a news article on my iPad and tweet it to the relevant class using their hashtag, and sometimes pose a question. I use twitter to encourage, remind and prompt.

Students use twitter as part of the general ‘Social Media Challenge’ that runs through our paper/s. That is, all are encouraged to experiment with cultivating a professional presence and learning network via social media tools of their choice, and I recommend Twitter as a good place to start. Some students share blogs, resources and ideas and comment on class content. It is especially great when students share their own blogs as emerging educators, or when having shared an author’s work, the author then joins us to encourage our learning too. These are the special, connected, moments.

I welcome ideas about how to extend myself as a connected educator, and how to tweak our next TweetMeet.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Extending Dianne's post about professional development...

Dianne's last blog post raises a perennial wondering I keep having.

Why do some people assume that - and we're talking mainly about digital stuff here -  they need a course on something before they can start using it?

Is it because digital stuff flummoxes people? Yes, I know, kids know how to work your cellphone better than you, but there's something about this digital stuff that seems to paralyse people more than other stuff.

Let me make an analogy.

When we cook something we've never cooked before, we can't always learn from someone who's made it before - if we did, we'd all starve! Instead, we are likely to check out a recipe, have a go at it, and assess the results. It's then we decide if it's worth having another go. We might tweak the recipe this time round, or we might have learned something new (a combination or process) so getting better at it is the aim, so the flavour's better and there's greater cook satisfaction.

Transferring that same sense of can-do-and-it's-ok-if-I-don't-get-it-right-first-time to digital stuff doesn't always seem to occur. The world still turns, we don't break anything and nobody dies when we try out digital stuff, but we are sometimes paralysed into inaction. But if it doesn't work, we might want to throw something, or have a hissy-fit. If we don't cook something well, do we respond the same way? Where has the Kiwi Number 8 Wire spirit of can-do, or the  yep, I can give that a go attitude gone?

In trying to answer my own questions, I came across a blog post when I googled "confidence +using digital technology". It talked about teacher confidence in using ICT, but addressed it in terms of providing professional development (PD). You can find Mark Anderson's blog post  HERE.

He also includes quite a neat graphic, but I was still disappointed. The graphic points to the input of PD making a difference to teachers' confidence. I would argue instead, that what is likely to make the most difference to teachers' confidence/competence is what happens to students' learning when they try  new stuff out. This connection with students' learning is not addressed in Mark's graphic, but I argue that it is utterly central to any teacher's uptake of ICT. An article is in the pipeline on this, (queued for publishing in 2015) but an earlier musing on this same topic can be found HERE.

Is this paralysis (I know it's an overstatement) with ICT a generational,  dispositional, confidence, or gender thing? Or am I missing something else? Does anyone out there have a view?

Monday, 8 September 2014

Professional Learning: Passive Development VS Active Access

I have challenged some of the preservice and inservice teachers I work with lately in relation to claims that ‘professional development’ is the only hope for teachers to keep up with new learning and continue to grow as professionals. Specifically, in the context of educational technologies and innovative pedagogies, some argue that it is essential that teachers “be provided with PD”.

Sounds reasonable perhaps, but my point of contention is the notion that professional development comes in the form of a pre-packaged course offering, and that teachers must be ‘given’ the opportunity (and funding) to attend the course by those who make decisions about such matters. 

The three points to emphasise are:
Professionalism - teachers can take responsibility for their own learning, which is a pre-cursor to sharing responsibility for the learning of students
Personalisation - no course or PD session can meet the needs of all teachers, but an individual teacher can select a range of pursuits to satisfy professional curiosities
Pace - change is fast, learning is constant, and time is precious. 

The message I want to promote is to look beyond courses for professional learning, and to actively seek out alternative opportunities rather than waiting for these to be provided.

My challenge is not unique and has been made by others previously, particularly proponents of communities of practice and professional/personal learning networks.

It is often said that effective teachers must be learners, and it stands to reason that effective learners are self-directed and entrusted with choices and control over personalised programmes of learning. How might teachers actively access professional learning that is personalised?

A few ideas follow.

  1. Read a teaching-related text or access some Open Educational Resources (OER) on a regular basis
  2. Establish a book club to read and discuss professional texts with other teachers.
  3. Take it online – follow #edchatnz on Twitter or join the Virtual Learning Network
  4. Set up your own Tweet-Meet to discuss professional issues
  5. Check out Pinterest for teaching ideas and start to pin some of your own
  6. Set up a LinkedIn profile and connect with other educators and groups
  7. Set up a professional FaceBook profile, distinct from your personal FB and use it to gather, share, discuss and critique educational content
  8. Search for some good educational blogs, and consider starting one of your own in a specific area of interest to you as a professional
  9. Do likewise with scoopit, and curate your own resource collection
  10. If you really want a course, try a MOOC. At the very least you will gain some insight into what all the fuss is about.
Yes, all of these pursuits take time, but just a little time can make a significant difference to learning. It needn't be unmanageable, and is far more accessible than frequent course attendance.

How can you actively access professional learning?

Monday, 1 September 2014

Future-focused learning part 2

This is the second part of my review of the report (published in May 2014) by the 21st Century Learning Reference Group, a committee convened and appointed by the Ministry of Education.

Today, I want to examine recommendations which relate to some of the 10 identified strategic priorities the group identified.

1. The first 'strategic priority' is related to meeting the needs of 21st Century learners. In this, there is a focus on programming skills, echoing the changes in the UK overturning a broader ICT curriculum to focus instead on teaching programming from a young age. Two recommendations are linked to this priority: seeing digital competencies as 'essential foundation skills for success' and supporting these competencies with resources, responsive assessment (links to NZQA creating online anytime assessments) PD and a 'programme of evaluation'.

Here are a couple of observations and questions:
(a) the digital competencies as 'essential foundation skills for success' point: success at what? for whom? in what contexts? and what are these competencies? On page 9 of the report, it suggests that a competent digital learner has 'the essential foundation knowledge' and goes on to mention only one kind of knowledge (but called a skill) - programming literacy. By default, this must be 'the' essential foundation knowledge.
(b) a 'programme of evaluation': It's not clear if the assumed programme of evaluation is intended to judge the value of resources, assessment and PD, or just the latter item. The first justification - ie about 'curriculum design and delivery needs' - is entirely focused on digital competence. There is no mention in this part of wise, safe or thoughtful use - competence suggests a howness, not necessarily a whyness or an awareness of an impact on others of any creation or appropriation. There is the danger that digital competence will be understood as a tick box/driver's licence expectation if this isn't explored and understood more deeply.

2. The third priority (pp 12-15), centred on investing in people and innovation, argues that this investment is key to changing practices (implying that practices need changing) and taking full advantages of digital technologies' affordances. The report writers recommend three specific actions to support 'effective leadership and learning', the first of which is to require all providers of initial teacher 'training'(!) to 'fully integrate digital technologies into their training programmes'. (NB: It is important to note that I think they mean initial teacher education and education programmes, for you cannot train people to deal with messy, complex, and diverse contexts - but you can educate them to purposefully and deliberately harness their experiences, talents, theoretical and subject knowledge to address whatever they are faced with.) Embedding digital technologies into such practices requires extensions to that knowledge and education-building, as well as a recognition that the funding models for universities currently under-serve the complexities of teacher education programmes. The PBRF model for research funding also runs counter to programmes centred on pedagogy, for the research funding opportunities available to education are almost non-existent, and yet praxis (ie the intimate relationship between research and practice) is hugely important to understanding the relationship between new technologies and pedagogical practices. Research is imperative, for there is a lot of hype and a lot of assertions about digital technologies, yet research about how these technologies are supposed to support learners to develop critical thinking and the ability to create rich multimodal texts that have power and influence is thin on the ground.

This third priority also includes the ONLY mention of initial teacher education and its place in the educational scheme of things. This mention suggests that the government should 'require providers of initial teacher training (sic) to fully integrate digital technologies into their training (sic) programmes. Require them to include digital competencies in the standards for all teachers'. This second sentence also misunderstands who sets the standards for all teachers, for it is not initial teacher education providers.

Investing in educational success (p. 14) plans, also mentioned in the report, also ignore the role further qualifications and the role of initial teacher education can have in supporting schools to grow knowledge and expertise. One example of this is Dianne's post on a recent book a colleague of ours co-wrote. It did not come out of only practice; it came out of praxis. Without such expertise, we are doomed to repeated the errors and misinformation of the past.

One last point: the the Education Innovation Hub idea in the report is a bright spark, and one I will be following the development of with great interest.