Monday, 30 November 2015

Looking back on 2015 - positive momentum

What might we celebrate as 2015 draws to a close?

On the one hand, there are a number of factors to be very concerned about, in terms of the current political climate and the constraints on the work of educators and researchers. Funding is tighter than ever and there appears to be a lower value placed on qualitative methods and social justice agendas.

On possible effect is our research being bound by the politics of the day. This obstructs our ability to be intellectually independent. There is a recent case of this in New Zealand, where a researcher was denied access to some documents. Such obstruction means we need to be agile and willing to adapt to changing conditions and societal needs if we are to fulfil a legal obligation to be a social critic.

This leads us to wonder: in these complex times, what purpose does our blog serve?

For me, blogging in 2015 has been about cataloguing practice and reflections, using the blog as a teaching mechanism, to articulate understandings for sharing with students. I blog when planning or recording commentary and insights about an event or process - in an online class, an elearning brown bag lunch, or a teaching advocacy session. In this way, the blog helps to gel the different parts of my role together and assists me to weave my professional efforts into a more or less coherent whole.

In 2016, I expect to continue to blog by way of reflection on my teaching and ongoing projects - related to peer mentoring for online teachers, and helping students and graduates to use social media for professional learning. I have played with ideas around social media in education throughout the year, with highlights including the ECSM2015 conference in Porto, and the opportunity to learn about Chinese social media from visitors.

Then there's our ELDM special issue on Twitter in Education and we are very much looking forward to submissions by 26 February 2016. I have enjoyed talking (and tweeting) with prospective authors and reviewers for the special issue, and the range of topics and coverage is coming together well. If 2015 was the year of our book, 2016 will be the year of our special issue. There is still time to work on a submission and the call for papers, via this blog, is still an active link with constant readership.

What would I like for Christmas and for 2016?
  • Some spam-free responses by way of comments on our blog from thoughtful colleagues and readers.
  • A successful special issue.
  • To meet some of the new intake of students in initial teacher education who may have heard me speak about teaching myths at our open day.
  • To keep the lines of communication wide open and co-constructive with students so that we can exchange feedback to advance our learning together.
  • To manage my time in ways that matter and make a difference.

For me, I like to use the blog as a thinking aloud piece. Sometimes it's about scoping ideas about bigger picture educational policy and what this might mean for educators - both in schooling sectors and tertiary.

My posts are sometimes also about political observations related to education. For example, the OECD. There are two posts: the first, in September, is about the report on education and media tended to portray it, while the second updates my thinking as it was prompted by a blog post about the relationship between the tools and pedagogical thinking. Both go together.

Anecdotally, I talk with teachers in a local secondary school who read the blog (hi to all of you at Hillcrest High!) and are happy for talk to be off the cuff. As Dianne intimated earlier, both of us would like some engagement with the ideas in the blog itself. Besides, it's always nice to engage with others over ideas. And it will make a great change from the pesky spammers who only want to promote some product or other. The 'delete forever' button gets a bit of a workout as a result.

The blog helps us, as Dianne suggested, to think, encapsulate and make sense of what we do, read, experience and learn. My occasional posts about working with some teachers is a case in point - it helps me make sense of something I notice while I have the privilege of being in their classrooms. One example is about science classrooms HERE, while part 4 in a series links more musings. A blog post by Sean McHugh that inspired my post about mathematics teachers and weights and measures was picked up by an Associate Principal and shared with a mathematics department, so I guess this blog helps provoke some thinking (I hope!).

Anyway, this will be our last post for the year. Soon we will be on annual holidays to recharge ourselves.  We hope you all have a great set of celebrations - whatever your beliefs. We hope you go well and go safely.

Friday, 20 November 2015

More on the OECD report on digital technologies in education

The previous blog post I wrote on this issue in September 2015 was in response to some of the media reports that took one item and made it the central focus of the report, when it was nothing of the sort. I have now come across a blog post that puts together comments from a range of international academics who have also commented on ideas the report covers. Essentially, the blog post  by Maria Perifanou outlines comments that strongly advocate for the deliberate acts of pedagogy that are crucial for learning. Yes!

It has never been more important for teachers to have active, deliberate control of designing the learning activities and processes (this includes learning where students are active participants and decision-makers). This is, however, no mean feat, especially if teachers keep the long goal in mind of developing tomorrow's citizens/adults who can ethically, morally, and safely, take their places as decision-makers in their own societies. This doesn't happen in a vacuum or by happenstance, but by deliberate and careful design over long periods of time.

Deliberate acts of pedagogy that facilitate critical thinking, the ability to interrogate texts of any kind, and to not believe politicians' words all the time, is crucial for the health of our communities. With the growth also of strong efforts to turn everyone into consumers to buy, buy, buy!, we must educate our learners to think first of all: what are the messages I'm receiving? What and how am am I being persuaded? This also links to understanding political persuasion.

For example, in the advertising context, I'm thinking of the relentless advertising for the machine that says it creates healthy smoothies that a juicer can't. This advertising does not compare like with like. If it did, it would have little to offer that a blender can't do, other than being a bit easier to clean afterwards. A juicer is about removing pulp; a blender doesn't do that. So why would there be a deliberate effort to mis-compare? It is about creating need when there isn't one, playing the health-conscious card to potential consumers. is this justified? Such a question could raise all sorts of ethical considerations that might not be thought about. In 2007 for example, Ribena was left red-faced by New Zealand schoolgirls who unearthed its levels of Vitamin C. The began with a question about which of the comparable fruit drinks had the most Vitamin C.

So why aren't we using common texts such as these to interrogate in our classrooms? These can leverage the affordances of the internet to offer students the opportunity to come up with answers to relatively disarmingly simple questions like:

Does this product compare like with like? How do you know? How did you test the argument of the advertisement? What do you learn from this investigation? What would you advise potential buyers about this product? If you had the money, would you buy one? Justify your decisions. 

Imagine classrooms where students are encouraged to use the internet, check out the purposes of certain pieces of equipment, make comparisons, draw conclusions, and report their findings to their peers? This could include investigating the value of educational Apps- are they fit for purpose? Do they help learning or so they stop at drill and rote memory?

Deliberate acts of teaching are about the end game of critical thinking and using readily available tools and texts to facilitate this development. it doesn't require much technological nous, but keen pedagogical expertise. Tasks that begin with a problem and leave the process open, are ones students can easily attempt. They combine the skills of close reading, analysis, discussion, using literacy strategies such as creating tables of comparisons, drawing conclusions, and writing up reports of some kind (blog, printed text, video, poster, infographic etc) to present to peers. This is mathematics, science, technology, English and the entire range of Key Competencies put together. A teacher at almost any level could justify such problem-based learning tasks. The differences, I suspect will be of degree - of complexity, the sophistication of the resources, and the expectations of the final outcomes.

So let's take back the power and claim what is rightfully ours as educators - the ability to provide deep, meaningful learning that transcends narrow technicist views of who teachers are and what they should do. My colleague Dianne Forbes' last blog post is entirely relevant here for she outlines teachers' roles in actively creating learning from positions of strength and clear purpose.

So what do you think about this argument? Discussion is really welcome!

Monday, 16 November 2015

Being a teacher … now and tomorrow

I’ve been browsing through a book called ‘Learning identities in a digital age’ by Avril Loveless and Ben Williamson (2013) and have found the chapter on ‘being a teacher in a digital age’ (chapter 8) particularly insightful.

As a Teacher Educator there is much in this chapter that resonates with what I am trying to be and to teach. Recently, we discussed similar questions in faculty groups as part of our review of initial teacher education. What do teachers need to know, do and understand in order to be effective in diverse settings? What do we want for the beginning teachers we mentor?

Guided by Loveless & Williamson (2013), and following discussion with a small group of colleagues, a little of my current thinking falls around the words highlighted below, with the suffix sion/tion: meaning act of, state of or result of. So, this is my thinking on what teachers do, are and achieve. This is what we are aiming at ideally as we teach, including those of us who teach teachers about teaching.

Vision – As teachers, we need to be purposeful, imaginative and as resourceful and wise as we wish/expect students to be, say Loveless & Williamson (2013). This is compatible with the New Zealand Curriculum vision for young people to be confident, connected, actively involved, and lifelong learners. It stands to reason that these goals are essentially appropriate to teachers. Can a teacher who is not confident, connected, actively involved or a lifelong learner successfully teach someone else to develop these capacities? Can we expect students to have purpose, imagination, resourcefulness and wisdom if we do not lead them by modelling these qualities? If these are the attributes we seek in our next generation, these are areas for teacher leadership. At its core, this vision needs to prioritise social justice and ethical responsibility, with appreciation of diversity, in order to be responsive to the needs of all students rather than just the privileged few.

Foundation – Teachers need subject knowledge and a dynamic approach to advancing and revising this knowledge continuously. Pedagogical presence and reach are essential attributes, alongside interest and actual enjoyment of one’s field. If we can’t model passion and joy in teaching, then how can we guide others to find it an exciting career?
Digital literacy is a key foundation, comprised of skills and attitudes toward problem-solving and change. Fundamentally, the ethical core lies with commitment to equity and to valuing people and learning.
Without vision and a foundation to build upon we would be stuck, floundering and faking it at best.

Decision – Teachers are curriculum-makers, not merely there to deliver or transmit what another has designed. Instead, teachers have to make decisions, to do so in flexible and adaptive ways, and with the social good in mind. Again, ethics comes into decision-making, as does courage and wisdom. Specifically, Loveless & Williamson remind us that environmental sustainability must now be part of our decision-making in terms of social good.

Action – Just as students are encouraged to be actively involved, teachers need a growth-mindset as lifelong learners, willing to proactively create and pursue learning opportunities and continual improvement. Being active is about being critical rather than passive in our acceptance of the status quo. This critical stance also pertains to our own practice, as we actively interrogate and build upon our practice. Action that takes a new direction can be transformative of learning possibilities. Action also includes the strategies we use when teaching and learning.

Without these two states/acts/results, we would be indecisive and passive. So, I guess we would still be stuck.

Participation – In terms of being connected, teachers cultivate relationships and collaborate in knowledge-building communities. Whether virtual or f2f, participation stems from being decisive and active. This is important in terms of relationships with students that make a difference, and also in terms of proactive approaches to teacher learning 

Innovation – Teachers who take risks, in creative and inventive ways, who improvise and who seek originality, rather than doing things the way they have always been done.

Reflection – As part of lifelong learning, we need to be prepared to critically examine our practice and to grow. Perhaps this is what future focused learning is about.

What have I overlooked?
What else do teachers need to be, do and strive for?

Friday, 6 November 2015

The rise of the neo-liberal agenda in New Zealand's education system

The current government is about to review the Education Act. This is probably a good thing, given how much has changed in the social, economic and political landscape. However, it is wise for all in education to look behind the curtain to understand more about what the intention is. I am cautious, because there are precedents to the stealthy creep of particular agendas that seem to be about delivering more and more into the hands of those who wish to make money rather than focus on the social and educational  health of its citizens.

I'm thinking here about the move to alter legislation to allow bars to open for Rugby World Cup televised games. So, at 3, 4, 5 am, people could congregate in bars to watch matches. Apparently this went well. Today, there is a call to loosen the strings on when bars can open because of this. This is after there were limits placed on access to booze because of the increasingly deleterious effects on people, the work of the police, traffic accidents and youth boozing. There is no mention of such issues in David Seymour's call, originally focused on a sense of patriotism for rugby. David Seymour is the sole Act Party member of parliament, representing a highly focused, neo-liberal view of the world. He is the voice of the far-right policies that, as far as I can see, the National Party wants to keep away from in public, to avoid scaring the horses, ie the public.

So what does this have to do with education? I suspect the same bit by bit whittling away of terms, conditions and principles. On the face of it, there are some possibly good ideas that Hekia Parata suggests. For example, new entrants starting school in cohorts rather than at their fifth birthday. I wonder what new entrant teachers think of that? Would having a whole new cohort start at once work? How difficult would it be for such a teacher to manage say, 10 students (who would be added to an existing class most probably) who start school for the first time? Such teachers seem to be remarkably silent on this.

As a starting point, the names of those appointed to the Education Act review Taskforce might bear some scrutiny. The Foreword by the chair intimates the focus when he says "Through our enquiries and consultation the Taskforce has concluded that there is a strong case to review the Act to provide a greater focus on student outcomes and more explicit roles and objectives."

One key thing that seems to be undefined, is what 'outcomes' mean. For example, all of the internationally highly regarded Best Evidence Synthesis reports begin with their own interpretation of 'outcomes'. A literature review on e-learning also undertook this in order to fulfil its brief on reviewing e-learning and student outcomes. It discussed outcomes in relation to both students and teachers. So what is the Taskforce's view of the term?

Other ideas also require some cautious investigation. For example:
Changes suggested include removing "unnecessary red tape" from school boards, possibly having some govern multiple schools. Parata said principals themselves had expressed an interest in leading more than one school, particularly where there might be very small rolls.(O'Callaghan, 2015)
I wonder what constitutes 'unnecessary red tape' if this is about school governance? How representative would school boards be if they govern more than one school? Whose interests are best served? Page 6 of the Taskforce recommendation suggests that Boards' roles might, for example,  include:
 – ensuring that school leadership has a focus on raising student achievement
– setting objectives for the school and monitoring results
– monitoring and planning progress in relation to a school’s charter and annual plans
– reflecting government priorities
– having sound fiscal and property management
– being a good employer
– ensuring school leadership maintains student and staff safety.

Some of these are absolutely fine for a Board to undertake. But  what about 'setting objectives for the school and monitoring results'? What might that mean, be interpreted as, or result in?

Another idea I urge caution on is this:
Schools that were "doing well" could have more freedom and extra decision-making rights, but having a "graduated response" to underachievement by schools would mean earlier intervention for those not doing well, Parata said (ibid)
What does 'doing well' mean? In relation to what? Who sets the terms for 'doing well'? How is 'doing well' measured? What would be put in place to deal with schools defined as having 'underachievement'? And what is this going to be based on? Will the goalposts shift each year or each term of office? Will it allow any Minister of Education to make unilateral decisions about schools and schooling and teaching (as has been a past feature of Parata's stewardship, for example) and expect compliance?

What might these changes portend for the health of the education system, and those who teach in it? Will it give more power to Boards to expect a business model in its school, possibly undermining or in contradiction to, a pedagogical one? How might this affect how teachers are expected to behave - as professionals with professional expertise, or as technicists, who do what they're told and 'perform'?  Will it lead to more rampant privatisation of what is a public good? (regardless of what Treasury might deem it to be). I have a lot of questions and very few answers, but I am worried about the directions it might take, and what elbow room it give to further neo-liberal inroads into education.

I'd love to hear others' ideas on this.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Meta-Blog: Blogging in academia

This week I invited two of our fellow blogging academics from the university of Waikato to join Noeline and I to talk about blogging with interested colleagues over lunch.

Terry Locke blogs here

Alison Campbell blogs here and also here

Marcus Wilson sent his apologies, but he blogs here

And if you are reading this, you have found the blog I co-author with Noeline Wright.

Colleagues in attendance included Leigh Hynes, who has a series of blogs, including this one

My reasons for convening this session, as part of our regular elearning brown bag lunch offerings were to talk about why we blog, and for whom, how blogging links to our work as tertiary teachers, researchers and academics, and to share some of the highs and lows of blogging. It is interesting to look at the different approaches to blogging between individuals, and across faculties and disciplines. For those considering starting a blog, this was a chance to consider why they might do so and to plan the first steps. For those who are not considering starting a blog, this is a chance to find out why on earth anyone else would! Participants were invited to come along to share the blogs they read.

What follows are a few tidbits from our discussion.

Why do we do it!?

In terms of purpose, it seems we blog:

- to write and think. Writing helps with thinking and short blog posts are an opportunity to succinctly express an emergent idea. Getting thoughts into print is an expectation and for many of us, a way of life. Terry blogs to collate his life’s work as pre-retirement project. He is articulating his philosophy, gathering up his poetry and linking other blogs that influence his thinking. I blog to catalogue my thinking across teaching and research, to cultivate a writing routine and fluency. In our blog, we could do a better job of linking to other blogs.

- to help students. Alison’s blog started as a way to help students of scholarship Biology. I find that I can articulate threshold concepts via blog posts and then share them every time this is relevant to student learning needs. I can address learning needs without repeating myself endlessly. The best example is learning through ICT.

- to elicit feedback and interaction, generating partnerships. Blogging is another way to network with like-minded people. The biggest frustration for Noeline and I about our blog is that we would like to get more response – feedback and interaction. Contributors talked a bit about how to ‘drive traffic to our blogs’ and it is apparent that the scientists among us have blogs syndicated to the science media site which assists with readership. We all rely on twitter to publicise our blog posts, and Alison uses Facebook too. I still find that most comments about the blog come from students, commenting within Moodle, or from colleagues chatting in the corridor/staffroom. While this is welcome, a few more responses on the blog itself – via the comments function – would be great. Anything other than the spammers really!

How do we do it?!

Some of our colleagues have several blogs on the go, for different purposes, and maintain a range of sites. Most of us carry unfinished blog posts in our head. Alison writes two blogs and has four posts in mind right now. For me, I look for ideas to blog and try to line up a few ahead of time. In much the same way as I organise the eBBL – When I meet someone, read something, attend a workshop or seminar, I ask myself, is there a blog post here?

I work to a deadline. Each fortnight I need to produce a post and I usually do. The actually writing of the blog post takes an hour or two. I always share draft for feedback from blogging partner but do not feel constrained to act upon the feedback received. I reserve the right to leave the post half baked, as is the nature of the medium.

In terms of the nitty-gritty, I find it helps if I a) take my laptop to shape up a post on the spot while in the session;

And b) sit down and write immediately after an event.

It seems the biggest challenge with blogging is TIME. We overcome this by scheduling, and linking blogging to other work opportunities and obligations.

Key tips:

  • Choose the register, pitch, language and length wisely. Who are your audience?
  • Blog with a writing partner – for peer review, motivation, and to share the load
  • Link with other work related tasks – your study focus, teaching, students, research, life’s works
  • Marry with Twitter, Facebook and other blogs to drive traffic
  •  Consider blogging as an assessment task for students. Examples include for science communication, literacy, or in keeping with other learning intentions.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Twisted pair?

This post is inspired by Steve Wheeler's #twistedpair challenge.

Essentially, it's about finding a link/synergy between two seemingly unrelated things. His post about teaching critical thinking led me to this post.

Earlier, I have written about pedagogy and food. Now I want to connect Heston Blumenthal, the chef, and the research process. His In Search of Perfection (see this example of the series) programmes are a great way to learn about action research. For example:

  1. he starts with a question - how do you make the best UK steak and salad meal? 
  2. he then asks a number of subsidiary questions to get under its skin.
  3. he does some data collection: he asks what people like in a vox pop and then follows up suggestions
  4. he asks experts in the field for their views, practices and protocols.
  5. he experiments with some of these - in the case of the steak, variations in the ageing process -what is the difference in flavour when cooked? 
  6. He then is able to make some decisions about tenderness, flavour, texture, fat and smell and tests them out by experimenting with samples of his own. 
  7. This leads to new knowledge and perhaps new practices.
This whole process is the way deliberate Teaching as Inquiry, a version of action research, can help teachers learn more about themselves, their practices, their wondering, and their learners. As Heston strives to know more by undertaking research into his practices, so teachers can learn from the principles of his method. He learns from things that go wrong (won't do that again) as well as things that are partially helpful or hugely successful. All of the data is potentially useful to add to knowledge. ERO (2012) argue that inquiry is about challenging thinking - it's about examining taken-for-granted practices through an evidence-based process. Heston Blumenthal's cooking investigation process shows how to do it. 

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

The OECD report on digital technologies in education

The hype around the report is getting quite a bit of media time. Some of it is highly superficial. The website providing the summary says this very early on:
Students, Computers and Learning: Making The Connection” says that even countries which have invested heavily in information and communication technologies (ICT) for education have seen no noticeable improvement in their performances in PISA results for reading, mathematics or science.
I suspect some media have been lazy and taken the comment on face value. Since OECD PISA evaluations focus on reading, mathematics and and science,  these are the only areas it can comment on in relation to digital tools.

Digging a bit more, the report's conclusions are based on:
results from PISA 2012, the report discusses differences in access to and use of ICT – what are collectively known as the “digital divide” – that are related to students’ socio-economic status, gender, geographic location, and the school a child attends. The report highlights the importance of bolstering students’ ability to navigate through digital texts. It also examines the relationship among computer access in schools, computer use in classrooms, and performance in the PISA assessment. As the report makes clear, all students first need to be equipped with basic literacy and numeracy skills so that they can participate fully in the hyper-connected, digitised societies of the 21st century.
On page 3 of the report itself, it describes some interpretations of its findings that appear to have been ingnored in some of superficial hand-wringing I've seen. On New Zealand television for instance, Mike Hoskings on Seven Sharp recently made comments typical of these superficial responses. The OECD's interpretations include the unsurprising but deeply important points such as:

  • "building deep, conceptual understanding and higher order thinking requires intensive teacher-student interactions and technology sometimes distracts from this valuable human engagement"
  • "we have not yet become good enough at the kinds of pedagogies that make the most of technology: that adding 21st-century technologies to 20th-century teaching practices will just dilute the effectiveness of teaching"
  • And on page 4: "great technology cannot replace poor teaching".
The OECD also urges that this dilemma of a gap between the affordances of the technologies and the skills and pedagogical abilities of teachers to take advantage of this, is urgent. Digital technologies the report urges, is "the only way to dramatically expand access to knowledge" (p. 4).

I am gratified that Karen Melhuish-Spencer's blog post also took this superficiality to task and delved into the report to mention the the kinds of things I've alluded to. She did a great job too, so it's a post worth reading! Another person who also took to the virtual pen to show her distaste for superficial and scare-mongering headlines, is Claire Amos. Her September 16 post is in agreement with both Karen and me. 

Essentially, we are in the position of knowing for certain that what teachers do and know matters for their learners. Without continual support and TIME to think, read, learn, and try stuff out in robust ways, teachers will be unable to leverage what is on offer and learners will be no better off than playing with shiny toys. This puts me in mind of a post I made earlier about mathematics teaching and learning, inspired by another blogger, Sean McHugh. Dianne, in an early post has also alluded to the idea of 'intellectual character' and its relationship to fostering deep thinking in learners.

New Zealand has high student to computer access, and this is likely to increase as ultra fast broadband is rolled out to all schools. The tables in the OECD report (see pages 60ff) indicate something of this high access as it was in 2012 when the data were collected. Then, schools will have uncapped internet. However, in my dealings with two large secondary schools in our area, the quality of the IT provider/support is neither reliable nor seemingly very aware of the need for nimble, not restrictive help. My knowledge of this is from numerous discussions with teachers who have to liaise with the providers. 

So the situation is by no means simple: I teach in initial teacher education (ITE) as well as working with teachers in secondary schools to track their ICT use. I therefore have a sense of what graduates bring with them to ITE. Their attitudes about what matters in the digital sphere often do not match their pedagogical understanding or their ability to design learning that uses these technologies to support learning rather than as an end in themselves. Some teachers in schools also struggle with this.

The tools themselves are not the answer - a dedicated focus on the pedagogical is crucial. And always has been. Let's take the advice from the report and look deeply at what it implies, not what the media superficials who don't do their homework, highlight. 

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Tweeting Up a Special Issue

Fresh from a synchronous tweet-up with authors interested in contributing to the upcoming Twitter in Education Special Issue of ELDM I’m reflecting on how the issue is shaping up.

Good chat this morning! Well, it was morning NZ time. It was evening in the UK for Sue and afternoon in NY for Jeffrey and in Florida for Simon.  A pleasure to be joined by authors from three different countries at this stage. We hoped the tweetchat would be an opportunity to connect in real time and toss a few ideas around, encouraging authors to proceed with their contributions to the journal and addressing any questions the writers may have at this stage. I expect it is also useful for prospective authors to see who else is writing for the special issue and what the topics are likely to be.

At this stage, authors have offered a wide variety of topics and they touched base within and outside of Twitter. We’ve kept a spreadsheet to track interest. Today’s Tweet-up involved 7 contributors, and suggested that there is active interest in areas such as: Using twitter for PhD thinking;  and Twitter with tertiary students – sharing literacy news and cultivating student-lecturer partnerships in learning. We all got excited about the prospect of revisioning lurking in Twitter as a more constructive practice. 'Lurking' might be frowned on, but it can also be about standing by and observing, akin to learning through listening and positive silent engagement (Sue Beckingham). I'm also intrigued by hashtag agency (Jeffrey Keefer). These indicate an exciting array of topics.

We are encouraged that the contributors are taking diverse angles, involving different participants in research, examining complex social and psychological phenomena, as well as pedagogies through twitter. In some cases, the authors are well underway with writing, shaping their articles. In others, the article will be a chance to turn conference presentations into peer reviewed outputs in a quality Sage journal.

For some, the research is in early stages - starting or generating data. There are also authors who are still thinking about how they might contribute. The good news is we deliberately made the timeline generous for this special issue. We understand and respect the need to take time to craft creative work. That is why the deadline is 26 Feb 2016. We do of course welcome early submission and can organise review in a timely manner.

In the meantime, we would like to nurture and encourage authors, to act as sounding boards for ideas in the formative stages, and to help in any way we can. Our aim is to attract a wide range of high quality submissions, and we are assured that if this special issue becomes too large, there is an opportunity to carry submissions to a further issue. From this point, we encourage all authors to keep in touch – if you would like to talk – skype,, email or f2f, please get in touch. We are happy to explore writing possibilities with you.

Let’s have another tweet up next month. And for those based locally in Hamilton, New Zealand, there is a conferencing opportunity at the 9 September elearning brown bag lunch.  Hope to see some of you there!

Sincere thanks to the participants at today’s tweet-up, a pleasure to virtually meet and chat with you all.


Monday, 24 August 2015

3Ps to turbo-charge my writing: A response to Kearns

While I write this post I am sitting in a Hugh Kearns seminar on turbo-charging your writing. Hugh is a captivating, entertaining presenter. His points, stories, and many analogies resonated with the participants, whether doctoral student or published academic. It is obvious that Hugh is very familiar with the psychology of writing and the typical habits of writers who procrastinate, doubt and avoid writing.

Check out some of Hugh’s work here
Here is an example 
OR follow on Twitter 

A timely session, on the first day of ‘teaching recess’, this session could kick-start some new productive habits for me. Promptly on the heels of my professional goal setting and at the start of a break from online teaching, my main goal is to write more often. Writing more often is a matter of self management and establishment of specific habits. And indeed, an underpinning theme throughout Kearns’ seminar is self managing procrastination and perfectionist tendencies.

In many ways, a motivation workshop, Kearns deals with good habits of writing, exposing negative thinking and blocking strategies, applying cognitive-behavioural psychology to challenge the blocks and lift performance.

I recommend attendance at Hugh Kearns' seminars, as time well spent. I've read a couple of the very accessible articles he has co-authored with Maria Gardiner. I look forward to following Hugh and Maria on Twitter.  What follows is not intended to represent Kearns’ seminar, but rather to offer some responses to his ideas as I seek to apply them to my writing in my context.

Here are my three key take-away messages, in the form of 3Ps:


Everyone is busy, and I really dislike it when people go on about how busy they are! We all have 24 hours in a day and multiple competing demands to juggle and choose between at any given time. In Kearns' words, to prioritise writing we need to focus on landing planes.

If writers are air traffic controllers, and writing projects are airplanes, think about which we should land (or finish) first. Logic suggests that we should land those closest to the ground, and avoid letting new planes take off when the airspace is already crowded.

With this in mind, I will work out which writing projects (journal articles) are closest to completion, and work on finishing them. 
While this sounds simple, it does clearly identify a place to start, is not driven exclusively by deadlines, and means I can have a continual focus for regular writing leading to greater productivity. In the meantime, I also need to carve out writing time that is free from displacement activities, or avoidance tactics, even when these are cunningly disguised as productive work in order to reduce guilt (Kearns & Gardiner, 2011)


While listening to Kearns this morning, I was constantly reminded of the threat of perfectionism. So many people suffer from this most overrated of traits, and it is increasingly clear to me that perfectionism, like the cult of busyness, is a disabling condition, and most definitely NOT the virtue or badge of honour it is sometimes made out to be.

In practice,  perfectionism means it is never the right (perfect) time to start and nothing is ever finished because its not good (perfect) enough.

Pursuing productivity makes far more sense. Interestingly, this realisation keeps returning to me whenever I think and write about workload, as in past posts about smart teaching

I vow to try out snack writing

Instead of waiting for time to binge, I will try to apply the "little and often" mantra to writing. I'll mix in a little other advice I've gained from other sources and try to shift location to increase my focus and productivity. Just this morning as I walked past our student centre, I admired the building and fondly recalled how I escaped there to proofread my thesis some years ago - with minimal distractions and in a fresh and studentesque environment. 

I'll be there tomorrow, armed with a resurrected draft of an unfinished article and a plan of attack, formulated in Kearns' nano-steps. I'll write what I know, and then I'll write about what I don't know, to signal my next research direction.

Will update you in a future post, and I'm very much looking forward to Hugh Kearns' next seminar on Friday.
More details via WMIER

Monday, 17 August 2015

Science teachers integrating digital technologies in lessons

Two science classes and digital learning tools: a snapshot

I have the privilege of working with a local secondary school, and I've made some blog posts in the past based on observations of music and languages. Science is in the spotlight today, specifically a Level 2 NCEA Physics class and a Year 10 Science class.

What's really interesting is not only the different tools the teachers included, but also the ways in which students got to problem-solve using them. It is quite clear to me that these teachers thought deeply about the learning goals first and then appropriated tools to help that happen.

Level 2 Physics

This class was all about understanding the symbols relevant to components of electrical circuits and the theory related to each named item - eg resistor, battery, voltmeter, ammeter, charge, current... She began the lesson, once students had grabbed a Chromebook from the COW (Computers on Wheels), by reviewing information about key words. She then made available a document that contained two links - one to a set of Slides and the other to an interactive site where students could problem-solve how to create specific circuits and answer specific questions. What struck me as most interesting in observing student behaviours, included:
  • adaptive help-seeking: comparing ideas and ways of solving the circuit problems, or connectivity issues
  • playing with the site: creating different kinds of circuits, wondering what would happen if.. and trying it out
  • asking the teacher for help if they were unsure: the teacher could then spend time with individuals on a just-in-time and just-in-need basis
  • a studied silence - the talk was low and mostly focused on the task ahead - and a lot of concentration. Talk centred on seeking and responding to queries from each other. The climate was definitely purposeful and directed at task completion
  • sharing the tasks: some students open different screens to facilitate the task completing as a pair. 
Working together on building an electrical circuit
At the end of the lesson, the teacher reviewed the results students posted in the online table. This provided a great opportunity for students to see how their results measured up with others', while the teacher explained why certain results were correct, while also exploring what might have led to incorrect results.

So what do I make of this lesson? Firstly, the task engendered a high degree of on-task behaviour for a considerably long time. Second, the teacher was able to concentrate her efforts on those who had the most trouble making sense of the task. This meant her support happened where it was most needed, while other students used each other to trouble-shoot. Third, because these circuits were made using an online tool, it was easy to chop and change what students tried out, without having to manipulate physical materials that might take some time to do. The digital version was quick, responsive and simple. Pedagogically speaking, the teacher was able to focus on the most need while engaging all students in a useful and purposeful learning activity, leveraging the affordances of the online tools.  Had the teacher been using the physical versions of circuit boards that schools have tended to use in the past, there would have been a greater shuffling of space, more time working in pairs or threes manipulating and moving parts to make circuits (and how many can be in charge of making the circuits at a time?), and less time collating results to examine and compare. The digital tools streamlined the task by having only one tool that everyone had access to and made it easier for much more time to be digitally hands-on. 

Year 10 Science

This was about acids and bases. In an earlier lesson, students had been introduced to Voki and had signed up for a free account. The day I observed, they were using that tool to create a short explanation of the difference between a litmus and universal indicator, using talking head avatar. This required students to read the information first, then write a version of it for the avatar to speak, listen to it, adjust and edit the text then share it. This means they went over the definitions several times before they undertook an actual experiment with the two indicators and various liquids. This iterative, recursive process is one way to reinforce and cement knowledge that might have not been possible with only pen and paper available. 

Creating a Voki voice message
As with the Level 2 Physics class, students exhibited a range of help-seeking behaviours, especially when some students needed technological help, which they tended to get from their peers. And again, as with the Level 2 Physics class, students were focused, on task and committed to completing it. Lastly, the teacher also reviewed the table of results of students posted, using the terms acids, bases, litmus and universal indicators, reinforcing the technical language necessary for the lesson.  

Comments: So what? 

What might these lessons mean? I think what I have witnessed is two separate occasions where teachers have used two sets of digital tools for specific learning purposes that streamlined learning opportunities. Students were in charge of the learning and tools, and deeply engaged in the assigned tasks. Through the organisation and structure of the lessons, students also got repeated exposure to understanding specific concepts, technical terms and definitions. At the end of both lessons, there was a full class review of results to compare and discuss, bookending the lesson in a satisfying way. On both occasions, students were on task, focused, and committed. Perhaps this suggests that these digital tools offer opportunities for students to both share and work individually while deeply focusing on learning tasks with accessible, easily manipulated tools that work seamlessly with the content of the lesson.

Using digital tools that can support students to deepen their knowledge and understanding while offering opportunities to review and reshape ideas is valuable in school contexts. When schools also don't need to house equipment or replace worn out materials is also sensible. The manipulation of physical tools and materials might mean learning happens differently from when the tools are digital. However,  the same content knowledge might be learned less arduously when the tools are digital. That is certainly the message students convey.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Post-script: Cross-cultural social media

Having just come from the elearning brown bag lunch on social media in China and NZ I am reflecting on the examples shared over lunch, and the learning I gained.

Among other things, I learned that WeChat is by far the most popular social media form in China, according to our guests. WeChat, available in iTunes, is an app for iPhone and iPad (as well as Android, Blackberry and so on), which suits Chinese users who appreciate the mobile convenience. According to iTunes, WeChat is free, enables free txts, voice and video calls, group chats with up to 500 people, along with gaming and language support.

With half a billion users, WeChat has a blog and a series of Facebook pages.
What is very clear is that WeChat has global appeal and is extraordinarily popular in the Asia Pacific region but does not yet have a significant profile in New Zealand. There are indications that it may be taking hold as a marketing tool for engaging Chinese stakeholders.

How do our guests from ZUCC and HEBUST use WeChat?

The app is designed for micro-messaging, so users exchange quick pieces of information - for example, the directions to a meeting room on campus. The visiting academics also told us that they use WeChat to alert students when their assignments have been marked, directing them back to the LMS to pick up their grades. Others use WeChat to share examples of online content, for example in Design, so that students can follow designers. Teachers of English as a foreign language use WeChat to coordinate debates between teams of students who must message each other in English and use the voice-messaging facilities in WeChat.

WeChat is seen as very casual and for recreation rather than learning by some of the visiting academics. Others are already exploring the learning potential and some may contribute to our special issue in ELDM.
Of course it is difficult for Chinese academics to compare the likes of Twitter and WeChat when access to Twitter is blocked in China. Nevertheless, there is the potential for travellers to try out a wider range of tools while abroad, or to access via VPN at home.

On downloading WeChat it is immediately apparent that I can link it to my Twitter and Google accounts, functionality that goes beyond what is conventionally possible in China.

Having a few problems adding contacts, but will persevere and update.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Cross-cultural social media for tertiary education

When I talk to students and colleagues in New Zealand about social media, tools like Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter are the first to be mentioned. However, in a global sense, the most densely populated social media platforms may be unfamiliar to many kiwis. For example, second only to market-leader Facebook is QQ, with 829 million active users. While Twitter is my go-to personally and professionally, there are two-three times as many million users on QZone and WeChat, which I have only recently heard of.

What do QQ, QZone and WeChat have in common?
Alongside Sina Weibo, Renren, PengYou and, these are a glimpse of the social media of China

I'm keen to learn more about cross-cultural diversity in social media and applications to tertiary education.

On Wednesday, 12 August, a group of staff from the University of Waikato will meet with visitors from Zhejiang University City College and Hebei University of Science and technology. We will meet to exchange ideas about the use of social media in tertiary contexts in our own countries and across international boundaries.

Participants are invited to share and discuss any aspects of social media use, related to learning, research, recruitment, and other professional activities. This is an opportunity to meet with international colleagues and discuss different networks and ways of communicating. While many people use social media recreationally to keep in touch with family and friends, increasingly, the tools are used by students and professionals to network and learn in ways that complement study and career focuses.

There are dangers related to privacy and professional reputation, when students and teachers use social media. There are also great benefits, including:
  • extending learning beyond the classroom
  • marketing professional skills
  • sustaining professional development and lifelong learning.

As we meet during this lunchtime, as part of our regular brown bag lunch session, I hope we'll share, compare and contrast our ideas about social media, and consider:
  • How is social media used in our countries and within our respective cultural contexts?
  • How is social media used in educational contexts?
  • In what ways might social media be used to expand your own professional online presence and learning network?
  • In what ways might social media be used for teaching and learning purposes with your students?

We hope our visiting colleagues might compare the likes of Sina Weibo with Twitter, in preparation for our upcoming special issue in eLearning and Digital Media.

We welcome these international contributions. 
If you are in Hamilton on Wednesday, we welcome you to join us too:

Wednesday 12 August
Seminar Room, University Lodge (ULS)
144 Knighton Road

I hope to share an update on my learning in my next post.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Thinking about learning and teaching in a digital age

I have just read a blog post by Sean McHugh about mathematics teaching in a digital age. He eloquently argues from a premise that 
It's always been a source of great consternation to me, that mathematics benchmarks around the world still appear to be completely and utterly oblivious of the implications of the impact of digital technologies in the world of mathematics
He goes on to suggest that educators in general (and of course he's probably over-generalising) appear oblivious to the impact of things digital on how we understand the world. He asks
Why is it that in schools that are blessed with the ubiquitous provision of digital technologies, one-to-one laptops and iPads, the students never learn anything about how file sizes and the measurements of these file sizes work?
I'm assuming here he's talking about those students who don't do a computer studies/science class. He certainly emphasises the point that perhaps teachers assume "a generation of digital natives automatically gets this stuff" when they don't, and argues for teaching a mathematics grounded in the here and now that looks ahead. He seeks to know why measurements such as kilobyte, megabyte and gigabyte don't feature as much as kms, litres and kgs in mathematics classroom contexts. He suggests that students do "not have the slightest clue about the units of measure that are fundamental to the devices that they rely on every day"

I refer to his post because it such a very good example of a missed opportunity to make mathematics understandable by hooking into students' everyday practices - especially when they moan with questions such as "WHY is taking so LONG to upload/download?' It is surely a teachable mathematics moment! it also links to problem-solving and problem-understanding. 

I therefore have a challenge to teachers - especially of mathematics - how might you be inspired by Sean's blog post to take on his challenge? 

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Social Media: Reputation, risk and relationships

To share or not to share? Why? With/For Whom?

This post was written in in Porto at the 2ndEuropean Conference on Social Media, where I presented my work on professional online presence and learning networks, and publicised our CFP for the Twitter in Education special issue. Time to share a few key messages from the two-day conference, further details of which can be traced on Twitter via #ECSM2015

The conference opened with a keynote from Dr Luis Borges Gouveia relating to security issues and human relationships in social media. Among other matters, Luis invited us to consider FaceBook (FB) as a room in which all of our past and current acquaintances, family, close friends, romantic partners and professional colleagues meet and mix. How would we feel about this occurring in any other social setting?!

While some regard this as a time bomb and advocate establishing separate profiles for personal/professional use, others question the integrity of splitting identity online, and regard separate groups as a more authentic response to communicating with diverse parties. Whether we separate people into rooms or groups, key concerns are audience, privacy and purpose. This reflects the challenge students often face when shifting from socialising on FB to using a wider range of social media tools for learning and professional purposes.

Audience is also about influence and reach. A number of speakers at ECSM15 tackled the problem of measuring social media influence (de Marcellis-Warin, Alshawaf & Le Wen)In education, social media enables reach beyond the VLE to connect with an extended audience. For example, Hogg & Ritchie presented how they used course narratives via blogs and FB to inspire and encourage prospective students. 

Interestingly, recent research looks at disclosure and risk perception online. I had the privilege of chairing a session at ECSM, incorporating work by recent masters graduates in this field, and it is clear that the factors determining what and how much users of social media disclose online, correlated with their perceptions of the risks of disclosure, are areas of emerging research. The extent to which young people are risk aware and savvy about privacy issues appears to be a bone of contention. 

A further point made by Luis Borges Gouveia is that only the rich can afford privacy. However it seems to me that riches very often lead to fame that is incompatible with anonymity, and famous people are targets for those who hunt private detail and seek to breach security. If we are all in the same boat, do we sacrifice a degree of privacy in order to work with (rather than against) our reputations, by proactively cultivating, rather than leaving this to chance or in someone else’s hands? Fundamentally, this is about our identity and sovereignty in terms of control of our data, ownership and self-determination.

Of the shorter sessions to follow, I found Nicola Osborne’s presentation most relevant to my current preoccupations with professional online presence and learning networks, or in Osborne and Connelly’s terms "eProfessionalism". This concerns how students manage (or neglect to manage) their digital footprints, and how tertiary institutions might provide guidance in this area to build student competence.

A related and highly creative articulation of guides to social media netiquette (SMetiquette?) is Elaine Garcia’s wild west poster, proposing that cowboy codes centred on notions of hospitality, fair play, loyalty and respect, could well be applied to the wild frontier of social media.

More on this in another post, as I think Elaine and Nicola’s work will continue to inspire my teaching and research practices.

On day two of the conference, Batista on social media in higher education, looked at issues and challenges, all of which coalesced around:

  • privacy and security
  • institutional frontiers
  • copyright and authoring

Drilling down, all of these are about Reputation. Privacy is about guarding what you want to keep to yourself; security is similar, particularly about safety and data protection. Institutional frontiers involve protecting a university’s wares and this in turn  relate to intellectual property and then to copyright and authoring. Essentially, we are happy to share freely if this is in our interest and positively enhances our reputation without causing us harm or loss (our co-authored book Digital Smarts is a case in point).

Overall, the key messages here are about being thoughtful and intentional about what we share on social media, while maintaining integrity, managing risk and sustaining positive relationships with those who matter.