Monday, 30 May 2011

Post script

This post should have really come before my Storybird and after our last lecture on Web 3.0. The article below appeared in The Sydney Morning Herald this morning and articulates a lot of the issues some of us have been concerned about throughout this unit, regarding our increasing reliance on technology. For all it's plusses, we must also keep in mind the minuses to the technological revolution.
What particularly interested me was how the article says that Google has actually made us smarter by "“turning us into superheroes of the mind”. However, what happens when we lose the gadget that gives us these "super powers"?(Mark brought this point up in our last lecture.)"Just say somebody steals my iPhone, you might think that's a form of theft but if I'm right that should actually be reconceived as a really vicious form of assault by getting in my brain and messing with my neurons,” Professor Chalmers said.
In a comment I made on someone's blog last night, Blogsprog I think, I said that I agreed that we (or me, at least) read differently depending on the medium. Meaning, digitally we tend to skim as there are so many other distractions on a digital page, whereas in a book we just focus on what we are reading. Well, how clever am I, and again, I quote from the article below,
                    "Social networks, while pleasurable and fun, increase distractedness by bombarding users with brief bits of information. 'We take in so much information so quickly that we are in a constant state of cognitive overload,' Carr argued. 'Multitasking erodes cognitive control. We lose our ability to say that this is important, this is unimportant. All we want is new information.' In contrast, when readers open a printed book, 'there's nothing else going on except words on a page, no distractions. It helps train us to be deep thinkers.' "
Have a read of this article as well as the links and the video - very interesting stuff!

Saturday, 28 May 2011

A blogtale for the road!

In this, my final blog post, I decided to create a Storybird as a reflection not just of my blogging experience over the semester, but of my experience with the New Technologies unit content. I have thoroughly enjoyed these workshops, even though I have often felt completely overwhelmed by the subject matter. While I have definitely warmed to blogging over these few months (as can be seen by my ever increasing word limit) I haven't decided whether it is something I would continue to do. Great tool for use in a classroom but outside school? Not so sure. Sometimes, I just don't want to reflect on anything!
I have not found it difficult to establish a public voice, once I began blogging about issues that were important to me. In fact, I find I am far more articulate when I write than when I speak. If only I had an undo button attached to my larynx.
Looking at other student's blogs, I find mine a little lacking on the embed side. That's probably because I have been exploring these in depth for my wiki - vokis, tag clouds, discussion boards, glogsters - if I had a dollar for every hour I have spent "playing".... Oh, how I love to wiki!
But back to my Storybird! I had a great time creating this - what a brilliant tool to bring into the classroom. I really hope to work in a school with a strong ICT focus regardless of whether they are well resourced or not. In fact, I think a school that had limited ICT resources would certainly challenge my creativity in terms of how I could incorporate these tools into my teaching. But what a great challenge. These tools tick so many boxes for me - they're collaborative, engaging, creative, visual, the list goes on - but remembering that they are just a tool. They are not the teaching.
So, without further adieu, I hope you enjoy... The Neverending Story or Just when you think you've reached your destination, someone adds another stop!

PS Excuse the crude link. I think the Storybird moderators don't want me to share my story and keep changing my settings to private. I could start a whole new blog on that subject alone!

Monday, 23 May 2011

Confessions of a flamer!

My name is Trudy and I am a flamer! It has been 4 days since my last flame. Actually, it's been 4 days since my first flame. But I couldn't help it. It wasn't my fault. Aliens made me do it and now I have crossed over to the dark side.

So what made me do it (apart from aliens, that is)? Well, I quote from Virginia Shea's Netiquette for some insight into my flaming episode:
1) "Although flames often get out of hand, they have a purpose in the ecology of cyberspace. Many flames are aimed at teaching someone something (usually in overstated language) or stopping them from doing something (like offending other people)".
My purpose was to get something off my chest that had been bugging me for a while. My aim was to teach a bit of common sense, which apparently isn't that common. Now I did choose sarcasm as my method of delivery for the flame. Perhaps not a wise choice for the teaching of common sense. The thing I was stopping them (and hopefully others) from doing, was asking any more stupid questions.
2) "Flame messages often use more brute force than is strictly necessary, but that's half the fun".
I wouldn't say that I had fun, but I certainly did enjoy the sense of release that accompanied the flame being delivered.
3) "Netiquette does ask that you consider the art of flaming before pulling out the flame-thrower. Any wannabe with an email account can ignite a firestorm of ill-conceived and boring flames. It takes diligence and creativity to pull off an artful flame".
I did think carefully about how to frame my flame. I know sarcasm is the lowest from of wit but I had to strike while the iron was hot.....meaning, that if I thought about it for too long, the moment would have been lost.
4) "If you must flame, don't flame gratuitously. Choose your target with care. In other words, hold back on flaming the newcomer to a discussion group who asks a dumb question".
Well it wasn't a newcomer but it certainly was a dumb question!
5) "Any time you flame you're going out on a limb.... Submit the flame to a sanity check, remembering that the net never forgets".
I did anticipate a bit of a backlash but was surprised to only receive one reprimand. I was even more surprised to receive a message of support that articulated what my own flame didn't, i.e. a little lateral thinking is required at post-grad study level. I guess others had been feeling the same way but were able to suppress their flaming desire.
6) "One sure way to escalate a flame war is to expand the battleground.... The skillful flamer keeps the heat in the proper place and avoids needless escalation".
Well, I certainly didn't escalate. In fact, I am leaving that discussion board alone - too tempting to replace my sarcasm with some more straight-to-the-point flames. Does this make me a skillful flamer? Well, I don't think I'm ready to list "flamer" under the Skills heading of my CV. However, I think I did flame with restraint and restraint, I believe, requires tremendous skill!

So what have I learnt from all this?

Ms Shea states that "Flame wars can be amusing for the twisted among us to read". I suppose then I have learnt that I am a little bit twisted. (Maybe not such a revelation for those who know me.) I admit I have found the sometimes inane, sometimes potentially flamable comments on this particular discussion board slightly addictive. I guess I have also learnt that discussion boards are easier places to vent than face-to-face interactions. Even though my name appeared alongside my post, there are still fewer consequences than face-to-face sledging. After all, you can always flame and never return to the site to read the responses. Definitely the cowardly option.

Finally, I guess I have learnt that we are all capable of dumb questions and perhaps I should have given the "questioner" a break. I have had many a blond moment (no, that wasn't a flame, merely an overused cliche) and will probably continue to do so. That's what happens with information overload - continuous partial attention (Linda Stone). At this stage of the semester, I think we are all in a state of CPA.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

The future is here!

A few days ago, I was lucky enough to get a glimpse into the future of education, or at least what I though was the future. It appears the future is right here, right now! Our class visited a private girls school to have a look at their ICT facilities and to see how teachers incorporate technology into their daily teaching and learning experiences. Wow! I felt like I had walked into a workspace at Apple HQ. I can't even imagine what Apple HQ must look like, if this is what a school in Perth has to offer.
Every Apple device imaginable was available for the girls (in highschool) to use, including web 2.0 technologies such as wikis for use in each of their subjects. I was quite envious of their 2 yearly turn around of hardware. Mine turn around is closer to 5 years. Even the wee ones in kindy were involved, playing pianos on iPads. Here, technology is part of the furniture and incorporated into every aspect of learning, just like the outdated pen and paper used to be. Wonderful if you can afford it but what happens when you can't?
Now don't get me wrong. I do not begrudge these girls this type of education. Their parents probably work tirelessly to provide for it. In fact, I know I'l be working my butt off for at least the next 12 years, solely to ensure my own kids are given similar opportunities. But if this is the future of education (and we all know it is) then what happens to the Aboriginal kids attending a remote community school or even middle class kids who go to the local, but under-resourced, public school? Does this kind of technology increase the social divide between the haves and have nots? It may not make much of a difference now, while these kids are at school. Kids don't know they have missed out on something until they have been exposed to what it is they have been missing out on. But what about, in a few years time, when they go to get a job? Will there be a whole set of important skills that they have completely missed out on being taught because the technology was not made available to them?
I know I am asking many more questions than I could possible try to answer in this post, but that seems to be the nature of this blog. My reflections have become questions about the whole nature of education as we know it - but I guess that's the point, isn't it? It's a bit of a doulbe-edged sword, so to speak - I was inspired by the possibilities during our visit but I also found it slightly disturbing. I will try to articulate why.
While I think the omnipresence of such technology is great on many levels, both for the girls and the teachers, I can't help but feel we are also losing something in the process. It's wonderful to see kindy kids playing virtual pianos, when they may not be exposed to the real thing outside of school. Something like this can fill great voids in kids learning experiences. But how can it possibly compare to the touch and sound of a real piano? How can downloading the latest bestseller and reading it, while waiting in your car for your kids to finish footy practice, even come close to the experience of visiting your favourite bookshop, scouringing the overcrowded shelves, rushing home and waiting patiently for that moment of peace, when everyone in the house has gone to bed, so you can finally begin your new book. Well, it can't compare. I know we have alot to gain by the availability of all this technology and it's presence in every aspect of our lives but we are losing alot also. I, for one, am going to try and have the best of both worlds.

PS I've included this Wordle image from the literature I've been reading for my Capstone Experience on Creative & Cultural Education. I have to admit, I love building this stuff, whether it's a wiki, a Wordle image or an animation. But I will always make time to visit my favourite bookshops!

Wordle image from "All our futures: Creativity, Culture & Education" (NACCCE Report, 1999)

Saturday, 14 May 2011

More thinking on New Thinking...

In another life, when studying towards a degree in Architecture, we would be given a design brief for a project that would usually require the whole semster to complete. Before we could put pen to paper, we had to develop an idea or a concept, that would guide the design of the building from beginning to end. Descisions about building form, structure, detailing etc would be governed by this concept. This concept is what separated a good design from a poor one, provided it was thought through properly. God is in the details, we were told! Unfortunately, you only have to look out the window to see that we are surrounding by buildings that pay little attention to their context, or even their purpose. They add little or no value to their surroundings and the lives of the community they are supposed serve.
So what does this have to do with education? Well, give me a minute while I try and make the connection! I know there is one in there somewhere.
Both Ed (de Bono) and Ken (Robinson) define creativity as the process of having original ideas that have value. It is about looking for new ways of doing things, regardless of what it is you may be doing. However, it is not just about coming up with new ideas, as some ideas may be completely impractical. So every creative process requires evaluation. Also, creativity is not an individual process but draws from the ideas and achievements of others. It has a social dimension as it benefits greatly from collaboration and different ways of thinking. This is their vision for education (and many others as well), to "develop young people's capacities for original ideas and action" (SKR). 
In New Thinking for the New Millenium, de Bono, sorry Ed,  states that in all creative & design thinking, 'concepts' play a key role. (I worked that one out in my architecture days.) There is also a need to create ways of implementing the concept through specific and practical ideas. Well isn't that the same for education? Doesn't the concept take the form of pedagogy and the implementation is the learning experience? Does that mean that good teaching results from sound pedagogy? Not always but the problem may lie in the implementation. I have been in several schools now that use a lot of group work in their daily lessons. Given this is a social constructivist concept there should be a great deal of interaction,discussion and collaboration. However, more often than not, group work translated to desk arrangement. There is little exchange of ideas and the lesson is still teacher-centred.
So again, what does this have to do with education? Well, our education systems do nothing, according to Ken and Ed, to develop the habits and skills of creative thinking. Education is all about the past, all about 'what is'. I guess that's because we don't know how to do it any other way.
So, when we look at the contribution of technology to education, we see that the technology is brilliant but the education concepts are often outdated. In fact,the technology is far ahead of the concepts we ask it to deliver (though I do conceed this is changing, albeit slowly in education). Faster communication means nothing if there is nothing to communicate. We know from experience that building more roads to ease traffic only results in more traffic to fill the roads. Technology by itself allows value (learning) to be delivered but the value concept (pedagogy) has to be there first.The big need in the future, says Ed, is not so much for more technology but for the design of new value concepts (pedagogy).
Remembering that this book was first published in 1999 and before web 2.0 really took off, I wonder if Ed would see social networking and it's implications for education as adding value to the technology. Indeed, in many ways, the concepts that seems to underpin web 2.0 (i.e. social constructivism) add value to education itself. It is no longer enough for schools to adopt a transmissive style of education even with the technology of web 1.0. Here, the pedagogy or the message remains the same, the difference lies in the mode of delivery.
I am reading this post over again, a day or two after I first wrote it. I must have been in some mood. I'm not sure I understand what I was trying to say, if anything at all. I was going to delete it but thought there may be something worthwhile in it after all. All I know is I am trying to find connections between my previous training in design and my future teaching. I know they exist. I know they can help me to become a better teacher. I think I have managed to articulate a few of them. Maybe someone reading this could enlighten me further!

Sunday, 8 May 2011

21st century thinking

A few nights ago, as I sat on the sofa with my significant other, watching motorcycles go round in circles and wondering how this could be construed as interesting television, I had an unexplained urge to look through my bookshelf. Now the cynics amongst you might say this urge was the result of being bored out of my mind in the 2 minutes it took me to sit down and witness the evening's viewing pleasure. Others, like myself, may see it in more Prophetic, Celestial terms ie. more than mere coincidence. (For those of you not yet out of nappies in the early 90's, see James Redfield's A Celestine Prophecy for an explanation. Not a literary masterpiece by any stretch, but it's message had me completely enthralled for at least 3 of his publications. After which even the message couldn't compensate for the awfulness of his writing style).
Anyway, as I rummaging through the bookshelf searching for an escape from motorcycles and looming assignments, I came across 2 long ago purchased copies of Edward de Bono's Six Thinking Hats (1985) and New Thinking for the New Millenium (1999). I had read Hats while studying architecture many moon ago but New Thinking was left on the shelf, excuse the pun. Mr de Bono ideas on creative thinking are similar to those of Sir Ken Robinsons (see previous post) or visa versa. In fact, the video below presents many of the same views on creative thinking. I think the term Web 2.0 first surfaced in 1999, so chances are de Bono wasn't even aware of this type of technology and the impact it would have on the way we think and must think in the future. (I could be wrong about this so please don't hammer me in your comments! I am making assumptions here).
In New Thinking, de Bono states that education is an example of a system that has evloved to a point where it is no longer capable of further evolution. In fact, education now (1999 not 2011) gets further away from the needs of society and what individuals within society need. Education is obsessed with literacy and numeracy (ironic that NAPLAN begins tomorrow), a view held by many. He goes to liken education to a pyramid - everyone at the bottom of the pyramid is taught so that the top 20% go on to university. The resulting irony is that the remaining 80% who do not make it, have actually been taught in a manner to get them ready to pass exams to get into uni. Much of this has little value in the outside world. De Bono calls this the 'academic game' - you are required to take in & remember a lot of information and then store this in order to give it back, on demand, during exams. Kids who are poor on the input and storage side have no chance in this game. However, these kids may often be very good thinkers, so long as the thing they are required to think about does not depend on stored knowledge.
De Bono  articulates something which has been bothering me for a while. In a world of mobile technology, e-Learning, web 2.0 and the like, why do I force my child to memorise her times tables every night? What purpose does it serve other than to alienate her from the education system? If she were a willing participant, then fine. But how many kids do we lose by forcing this kind of 'learning' on them? She is a bright and creative child but has no chance to shine in a system that considers her average at best, maybe struggling at worst, just because she doesn't take part in the 'academic game'.
De Bono maintains that the thinking of the last millenium was concerned with what is (requiring analysis, criticism & argument). This seems to be the framework for our education system. But thinking for the 21stC needs to be concerned with what can be (this requires thinking that is creative and constructive). This type of thinking seeks to solve problems by designing a way forward rather seeking established ways of doing things. In constructive thinking, there is an attempt to build on everyone's contribution and so to progress forward. I guess this is where web 2.0 can make a significant contribution towards developing 21stC skills. That is, by encouraging creative and constructive thinking.

I can see this can of worms will require several more posts to help me get my head around it. Perhaps I should have stuck to watching bikes go round in circles - my head would definitely hurt less but who could have guessed?


Friday, 29 April 2011

Back to wikis!

Since my second post on collective intelligence, I have had a chance to learn more about wikis and explore examples of them a bit further. Well, I am a fan to say the least, and I think being exposed to them has helped my understanding of the notion of collective intelligence. So much so, that I am a little embarassed by the naivete of my second blog!

I still have to come to terms with how web 2.0 technologies such as Facebook and Twitter could be used in an educational setting, if at all. Wikis, however, open up a whole new range of possibilites for education. On the one hand, it allows people with previously limited access educational resources, a chance to take part in innovative learning opportunites. Charles Leadbetter's Education innovation in the slums is a great example of that. It requires a great deal of creativity on the part of educators to make each learning experience relevant and engaging to students, wherever they may be. I also love how students can revisit or catch up on content they have either missed or don't understand. This can be pretty difficult to achieve in a traditional classroom environment.

What I loved about playing around with my own wiki, was the way you could incorporate everyday classroom strategies into each learning experience. For example, when introducing a new lesson or concept to students, teachers use activites to elicit students' prior knowledge in order to plan future lessons - diagnostic assessment, in other words. In a classroom setting, you might get students to complete a "Things I know about XYZ" chart to determine what they know about the topic. In a wiki, you could use a program like Wallwisher which is like an online notice board, to have students post their ideas about "XYZ". Students also get to read other students' responses, which may encourage further deeper thinking about the topic. The strategy of "Think, Pair, Share" can also be achieved online through discussion boards.

I love the creative potential of wikis and the other tools (which I am yet to explore) that can be incorporated into them to make the classroom a much more interesting place to be in. Once you get your head around the mechanics of the technology, web 2.0 tools really do promote 21st century skills. But more on that later....