Assembling the heterogeneous elements for (digital) learning

Month: July 2011

Residents and visitors, are builders the forgotten category?

Over the last few weeks I’ve been thinking about the Australian Federal Government’s Digital Education Revolution (DER). The presentation arising from that thinking will be given later this week and am hoping the slides will be up soon. I’m currently thinking about the People aspect of the DER. In particular, I’m wondering if the digital visitors and residents idea might need to be modified a bit in light of the protean nature of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) and ideas like Douglas Rushkoff’s Program or be Programmed.

It’s fairly common when thinking about people and technology to talk about Prensky’s version of immigrants and natives. Though I think Barlow first coined the idea, Prensky appears to be commonly thought as the originator. For Prensky, immigrants were born before ICTs and so have a digital accent. They don’t really get the digital world, the immigrants do. This distinction is still introduced in some university ICT courses but there has been some criticisms of it (e.g. Bennet et al, 2008).

David White shifted the focus away from immigrants/natives toward residents and visitors a few years ago and has written and talked about it. Importantly, this shift moves from a focus on a person’s age in relation to the advent of the “digital world” – a focus that never really worked because at 40+ I consider myself to be more of a digital native than many young whippersnappers – to how they use the digital world.

For White, a digital resident lives at least a percentage of their lives in the digital world. The actively participate in online communities. The digital world is seen as a place that can help inform all aspects of their life. The resident has an identity online that they are always developing. A visitor on the other hand, will use the digital world but only for very specific purposes. e.g. using Skype to talk with a child that is travelling overseas, online banking.

Ever changing digital world

In an earlier post I questioned whether you could be a native within a digital world that has continually change as one of its defining characteristics. White’s resident description suggests yes when it refers to the resident always developing their online identity. A resident is engaged with the world and hence can keep up with the change. A visitor can’t.

A bit like a friend who used to live in our nearest town. He returned recently – as a visitor – and was surprised by the advent of a new fast food franchise opening up in an unexpected spot. We residents weren’t surprised, we’d seen the change happening.

Protean technology and moving beyond resident to builder/manipulator?

In another post I reflected on Mishra and Koelher’s definition of the distinction between ICTs and previous technologies used in education (e.g. blackboards, pens etc). ICTs are protean. A quote from my earlier post

Mishra and Koehler draw on the work of a number of folk in describing the digital computer as protean in nature – inherently flexible. For example Kay (1984) describing computers as a meta-medium that can dynamically simulate the details of any other medium (including non-physical media) and his suggestion that we have barely begun to investigate this freedom for representation and expression. A computer is a tool to manipulate symbol systems be they visual, acoustic, textual or numeric.

One of the fears I expressed in that post was that for some universities (and other organisations) the software they use and the IT policies and processes they use are deliberately aimed at removing the protean nature of technology. ICTs are often seen as constraints. The one true way to perform some task. Impossible to modify.

Douglas Rushkoff takes that fear even further into general computer use. Too many people take computer software as a given, they don’t think about what is behind the screen, let alone think about changing things. Rushkoff

For me, however, our inability and refusal to contend with the underlying biases of the programs and networks we all use is less a threat to our military or economic superiority than to our experience and autonomy as people. I can’t think of a time when we seemed so ready to accept such a passive relationship to a medium or technology.

I am still thinking through Ruskhoff’s idea that most people should have some programming ability. At least in terms of how programming is though of at the moment. But it does strike me as important that people using a protean technology should be able to have some fairly significant ability to shape that technology. In fact, I am wondering if the protean nature of ICTs is important enough that White’s residents and visitors needs to be expanded/redefined in order to indicate this.

Perhaps the addition of a third option – “builder/creator”?

Perhaps an extension of resident to include some notion of an ability to shape their digital world?

Is the resident’s ability to continually develop an online identity a reflection of this?

Perhaps, but I feel the allusion to a physical world created by the use of resident/visitor tends to overlook this very important distinction between the physical world and the digital world. The ability to shape it.


Bennett, S., Maton, K., & Kervin, L. (2008). The ‘digital natives’€ debate: A critical review of the evidence. British Journal of Educational Technology, 39(5), 775-786. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8535.2007.00793.x

What story do the numbers tell?

So the Australian Federal Government recognises that there is something going on (DEEWR, 2010)

Australian students must be prepared for living and working in a highly technological and information rich world that is rapidly changing.

. So much so they have embarked on a Digital Education Revolution at a cost of at least $2.4 billion dollars. The DER

aims to contribute sustainable and meaningful change to teaching and learning in Australian schools that will prepare students for further education, training and to live and work in a digital world.

That has to be good news doesn’t it? Of course, the devil is in the detail and from what I’ve been able to find, it doesn’t look good.The following graph shows the respective amounts of money allocated by the government to various projects.

Budgets of four government projects

Can you guess which of those projects is aimed at providing funds to teachers and teacher educators to develop the skills and practices necessary to “live and work in a digital world”?

The most expensive project (at least $1.2 billion) is for ensuring that there is a 1:1 computer to student ratio in Years 9-12 in all Australian schools by the end of this year. Can you hear those hardware companies licking their lips?

The next most expensive project (at around $425 million) is less than half as expensive as handing out computers. It’s actually for the National Rewards for Great Teachers project. A project where the top 10% of teachers will receive a bonus of up to 10% of their salary. $50 million of that goes to education departments to “align their current approaches to performance management with the new Australian Teacher Performance Management Principles and Procedures”. The last I heard, student performance on national literacy and numeracy tests would be part of the indicators of a great teacher. This sort of thing is certain to encourage teachers to experiment with innovative digital learning approaches.

The next largest budget is for the Online curriculum resources and digital architecture project associated with the DER. For $28.6 million the project is developing quality digital resources, interoperable systems and architects, and policies and protocols to support “schools’ access to and engagement in quality teaching and learning environments”. Yes, the learning objects and repository crowd are still getting some government money.

The smallest budget (of about $16 million) is for the ICT Innovation Fund. This is the project focused on providing teachers with “significant ongoing support to improve student performance and ensure the Digital Education Revolution (DER) initiative is a success”. At least half of this budget is for the Teaching Teachers for the Future project. The remaining money is being used to develop: “seven online teaching packages which will show teachers how they can incorporate the use of ICT in everyday learning, with a focus on Phase 1 of the Australian Curriculum” (which probably means if you’re not teaching English, Mathematics, Science and History, you miss out); a safe online environment within which teachers and school leaders can evaluate and build on their ICT skills; and, an online portal “through which principals and aspiring school leaders can access expert ICT advice and tools as well as network with other principals and aspiring school leaders”.

Have these people not heard of the Internet and building a personal learning network?

And this short discussion doesn’t even start to include the amount of money being spent by the Government on standardised testing and other projects. I’m increasingly skeptical about the outcome of this.


DEEWR. (2010). ICT strategic planning guide for Australian schools (p. 16). Canberra, ACT, Australia. Retrieved from

Can you be a native in a world that is always changing?

So I’m working on an assignment examining and critiquing the government’s Digital Education Revolution (DER). It looks like the argument I’m going to make is that it won’t be a success. Where success is defined as achieving its goals, which is to

contribute sustainable and meaningful change to teaching and learning in Australian schools that will prepare students for further education, training, jobs of the future and to live and work in a digital world

I think it will fail mostly because that it fails to recognise what Collins and Halverson (2009, p. xiv) describe as the “deep incompatibilities between technology and schooling”. i.e. the digital world that the DER is trying to prepare students for is itself largely incompatible with the nature of schooling.

In addition, as I read more about the DER and its various sub-projects, the more I am seeing the thinking of digital immigrants. I’m not sure that the people developing the DER sub-projects actually understand the nature of the digital world. At least not in its current incarnation in terms of social media, Web 2.0, etc. An argument I extended a bit in the comments section of this post from yesterday.

I hear the groans and the cries of “bingo” from those playing educational technology/Captain Obvious bingo. Surely not the old digital immigrants/natives silliness again? Well, yes, but not not the Prensky version, the Barlow version (which I believe arose prior to Prensky) described here by Lankshear and Bigum (1998)

Barlow’s third distinction is between those he calls ‘immigrants’ in Cyberspace, and those he calls ‘natives’. This is the difference between those who have, as it were, ‘been born and grown up’ in Net-space (the natives) and those who have, as it were, migrated to it. More to the point, it distinguishes those who ‘understand the Internet, virtual concepts and the IT world generally’ from those who do not: i.e., it distinguishes mind-sets. Immigrants don’t have the experiences, history and resources available to them that natives have and, to that extent, cannot understand the space that natives do.

Now I don’t believe that all the youngsters are natives and all us old folk are natives. But I do believe that there is a distinct difference in appreciation, knowledge, and accent between the natives of the “digital world” and those that are immigrants. And I’m sorry to say that I hear quite a broad immigrant accent as I read about the DER.

Can you ever really be a native?

This has got me wondering about the somewhat static definitions of native and immigrant. If non-stop change is a defining characteristic of the digital world, can you ever remain a native of it forever? What about if personalisation, customisation, and diversity are also defining characteristics of the digital world? Can anyone person be considered a native?

Perhaps this is part of the argument for moving toward Dave White’s metaphor of Visitors and Residents.


Collins, A., & Halverson, R. (2009). Rethinking education in the age of technology: The digital revolution and schooling in America. New York: Teachers College Press.

Lankshear, C., & Bigum, C. (1998). Literacies and technologies in school settings: Findings from the field. Keynote address to 1998 ALEA/ATEA National Conference. Canberra, ACT, Australia: Full text at: http://www. geocities. com/c. lankshear/litandtechs. html. Retrieved July 20, 2011, from

Teaching teachers for the future

The following is a bit of a summary and initial reflection on the Teaching teachers for the future project that is currently underway in Australia as part of the Australian Government’s Digital Education Revolution (DER). The project

will ensure future teachers can provide every Australian student with the best learning opportunities in an increasingly online world.

. This article gets a little more specific when it says

As its name suggests, the Teaching teachers project ultimately aims to enhance and support the way pre-service teachers are taught at universities, making sure that ICT is incorporated in education curriculums at all higher education institutions.

I’m looking at the DER as part of an assignment for a course that is part of the pre-service teacher education I’m currently engaging in. As someone who is going to be teaching next year (I hope), I’m interested in what the DER and the TTF project are trying to achieve. In particular, I’m wondering whether it will work or be yet another failed large-scale project around technology integration. As I am, by nature, a pessimist/realist I am somewhat doubtful of its chances.

What will the TTF do?

This is based on the initial November 2010 announcement on the ALTC website, I do wonder how much has changed. It is meant to be a 18 month project. Ahh, but the ALTC’s involvement only lasts until the end of 2011 when it closes.

Oh dear, this is a bit funny. This article suggests that the ALTC’s role in this project is to

drive change and ensure the long-term sustainability of the project.

Given the same article suggests that ALTC closes at the end of 2011 – 6 months before the project finishes – what does this say about the long-term sustainability of the project?

With an initial focus on English, Mathematics, Science, and History (which, if I remember correctly, are the first subject areas being implemented in the new national curriculum) and involving a range of players from across the sector (ALTC, Council of Deans, AITSL, etc) – the number of project participants seems likely to increase potential challenges to success, as well as providing benefits – the project seems to be focussing on three components.

  1. Add explicit ICT dimensions to national graduate teacher standards.
    These standards have been released. These elaborations are essentially clarifications/expansions on the existing national graduate teacher standards that include mention of how ICTs help support/achieve those existing standards. For example, one standard is

    Demonstrate knowledge of teaching strategies that are responsive to the learning strengths and needs of students from diverse linguistic, cultural, religious and socioeconomic backgrounds.

    and the ICT elaboration is

    Demonstrate the ability to match digital resources and tools with teaching strategies in ways that are responsive to students’ diverse backgrounds

    I find myself troubled by this whole notion of standards and ICT elaborations. Partly this is to do with the notion of defined standards. While I recognise the need/purpose, I’m not sure of its efficacy in practice. I also wonder about what does “ability” mean in this context?

  2. Develop digital ICT resources for English, Maths, History, and Science.
    The description of this component includes

    a national collection of digital resources that provide pre-service teachers, teacher educators and teachers with rich professional learning and digital “anywhere, anytime” exemplar packages

    I understand the need for exemplars as a path for learners to appreciate and understand what is possible, but I do wonder how sustainable this is. Why are we building yet more resources, aren’t there enough already out on the web, in the learning federation? What happens 12 months after the project is complete and technology has moved on and the developed resources start to lose their currency?

  3. Establish a “National Network of ICT expertise” that will drive systemic change in ICT curriculum and pedagogy in Teacher education.
    This appears to involve getting expert ICT practitioners employed specifically within Education Departments to encourage the integration of ICT into courses.

    Mmm, how sustainable is this going to be. Will it change the capabilities of the academics already in universities that are responsible for the training of student teachers? If not, what happens when the seconded folk return to schools? How are you deemed to be an accomplished educator? Does being a teacher that is effective in using ICTs in teaching mean you are the best person to change ICT usage in pre-service teaching?

    A large constraint for these folk will be the existing support for ICTs within universities. At least some I’m aware of are focusing very much on cost-minimisation in terms of e-learning, and this doesn’t bode well for what I see as some of the aims of this project.

The bigger problem

Collins and Halverson (2009, p. 145) write

We are dealing with a mature, stable system of education designed to adapt to gradual change, but ill-suited to embrace radical change. The pace of technological change has outstripped the ability of school systems to adapt essential practices.

While they write about K-12 education, I see the same problems within universities and I wonder whether the above components of the TTF project will be sufficient to modify the mature, stable system of education within universities.

Especially given when the initial focus is on a subset of courses, rather than entire practice.

Of course the other more personal problems is that when/if these components are successful in changing teacher education, I’ll be a practicing teacher and won’t benefit from the change.


Collins, A., & Halverson, R. (2009). Rethinking education in the age of technology: The digital revolution and schooling in America. New York: Teachers College Press.

Choosing the wrong drivers for whole system reform

At some stage in the last week I was pointed to this report/paper from Michael Fullan titled “Choosing the wrong drivers for whole system reform”. The argument is that the large-scale reforms of K-12 education being undertaken in both the USA and Australia are destined to fail because they have adopted exactly the wrong drivers to encourage system-wide reform that actually improves learning outcomes for all students.

Fullan positions the following as the correct drivers/questions about attempts at whole system reform. The question is, does the attempt at reform

  • foster intrinsic motivation of teachers and students;
  • engage educators and students in continuous improvement of instruction and learning;
  • inspire collective or team work; and
  • affect all teachers and students – 100 percent?

While written for the K-12 sector, I found myself asking these questions about the attempts at reforming learning and teaching I’ve seen within tertiary education, both at the institutional and sector level.

I wasn’t saying “yes” a lot.

In fact, as with Fullan’s critique of the US and Oz K12 reforms, I found myself identifying a lot of attempted strategies that actively mitigated against that list of four.

Now I need to read Fullan’s work (this gives an interesting, alternate perspective on Fullan) a bit more and see what I can critique, but the general themes seem to resonate with me.

Social bookmarks, curriculum and resources: A search for a visualisation tool

I have a problem. I’m hoping you can solve it by pointing to an existing tool or collection of tools that might solve it. I’m pretty sure there will be prior work in this area (e.g. social bookmark visualisation, the metadata/library crowd, knowledge management, networks, the visualisation and I suppose even data analytics groups, and maybe the connectivist folk), even if it isn’t explicitly connected to teaching.

The problem

I’m halfway through my pre-service teacher training as an Information Technology/Mathematics teacher. In a couple of weeks I commence my second period of “Embedded Professional Learning” (EPL) where I spend 3 days a week over 8 weeks in a school helping to teach. After that there is a 6 week internship full-time at school teaching.

I’ve done a bit of teaching at the University level, but teaching at high school is new. Especially teaching mathematics. I feel the need to develop my Technological Pedagogical and Content (TPACK) (new look site it appears), especially given the focus on knowing the set curriculum in the pre-service teacher training. I’ve been doing this via twitter, blogs, the literature, and the web more broadly. But I have a problem. It’s not organised.

So far, as I’ve been teaching lessons I’ve been doing Google searches to gather ideas, bookmarking some of them and combining what I think works into a final lesson, usually in the form of an IWB flipchart or some board notes. (Yes I know this smacks of less than stellar practice, but I’m learning). Much of what I looked at is lost. Much of the really great stuff I see online when I’m not teaching is similarly lost. I can retrieve some of it if I remember about it or if my quick searches of my bookmarks reveal what I’m looking for.

I do wonder if I’m being a typical technologists in searching for a tool to solve my problem, rather than developing the appropriate practices. But I do think that the right tool might make a difference for my practice, but might also enable some improvements in sharing.

What might work?

In my head, I think I need an application that allows me to actively construct, visualise and navigate a network of TPACK (or just knowledge in general). Something that combines a mindmaps, social bookmarking app, tag cloud, various other visualisation tools, and much more that I haven’t clearly thought about yet. Something that allows me to

  • Construct some sort of network/mindmap of a curriculum with links to the curriculum documents.
  • Use Diigo or other social bookmarking tools and link them to the curriculum (or vice versa).
  • Support navigation through and visualisation of the network in a variety of ways.
  • Explicitly add, delete and generally rearrange the nodes in a network, including re-using the nodes in another network.
  • Easily share different networks with others and support collaborative development of the network between groups.

When I have to sit down and design a lesson on direct proportion (amongst topics in math I currently question the value of, this is near the top of the list) I can go straight to the application and use the network representing the unit of work to find the resources/tags from the National Curriculum on this topic. From there the collection of resources I (and perhaps others) have tagged are visible and I can start reviewing them and constructing my own network around these resources. A network that will eventually become the lesson plan, which can then be made available via the app as well.

As I wrote down that list of requirements and thought about some others I didn’t, I had this weird sense of deja vu. There has to be something out there. What am I missing? Any ideas?

Some considerations around ICTs for learning in the Senior School: initial thoughts and planning

So, yet another assignment as a pre-service teacher. This one is a 2000 word report on a challenge facing Queensland education. The title of this post is the current title for my report. The following contains the “abstract” we were required to post to the course discussion forum and some initial planning for the broader report. If you have any suggestions fire away.


The Australian Federal Government’s “Digital Education Revolution” intends to

contribute sustainable and meaningful change to teaching and learning in Australian schools that will prepare students for further education, training and to live and work in a digital world

To achieve this aim, significant amounts of money is being invested in a range of strategies and projects involving millions of dollars. Sadly, encouraging the adoption of ICTs in schools has a long history of little or no impact (Cuban, 2001). This report will seek to highlight a range of considerations that may hinder or enable the Digital Education Revolution.


The position I take to place is that the Digital Education Revolution is important for Australia, and in particular Queensland. It will, however, be incredibly difficult to achieve the aims being set out by government and my sneaking assumption will be that it won’t be achieved. Mainly because there are a significant number of considerations or constraints that will not be factored into what the government and other bodies do.

It is those considerations, or at the very least a number of the interesting ones, that my report will raise. The aim is that by identifying these considerations it might raise awareness and some folk might take steps. Most of these considerations will not be new and I see this report mainly as an opportunity for me to reflect on these a bit more and become familiar with what the Australian government is currently funding.

The report could be on just about any contemporary issue. My choice of ICTs could be seen as the easy option – given my background in information systems and e-learning – and to some extent I agree. But then it is an important issue for secondary education and one that will impact upon me.

The rest of this has some initial ideas for factors to consider and an initial summary of the DER actually entails in terms of money and projects. Both these will need to be expanded. Some follow up tasks I need to complete

  • Skim the course material for any mention of the DER or computers in education.
  • Build up a more complete picture of the DER.
  • Revisit some of the literature I’ve seen about computers in schools.
  • Find what others have written about the DER.

The Ps Framework

Rather than simply generate a list of considerations I am going to use the Ps Framework to structure the list. Yes, it’s my own framework, but then if I don’t use it, no-one else will. It’s proven reasonably useful in the past (Jones, Vallack, and Hood, 2008; Jones, 2008) in terms of understanding the broader implications of e-learning.

What follows is a quick brainstorm of potential considerations and example of how the Ps Framework might be used.

  • Purpose.
    • Mismatch between purpose of DER (Digital Education Revolution) and of the current schooling system.
      i.e. if the DER aims to prepare students for a “digital world”, then it could be argued that the requirements of a digital world are not at all served by the current industralised schooling system (ala Sir Ken Robinson etc.). Opens up the question of what the “digital world” actually means and to whom.
  • Place.
    • Mixed messages in government policies and initiatives.
      e.g. the discrepancy between standardised testing and the “digital world”.
    • Concerns about digital bullying, sexting etc resulting in the need to protect students and that clashing with the idea of how best to prepare students for the digital world.
    • The chance that Australia’s Federal Government could change at the next election in 2 years time to one that is fundamentally against some of the components of the DER (e.g. the NBN). If government did change, this could result in an undermining of any cultural changes within the education sector.
  • People.
    • Examine how the characteristics of the teacher profession might impact upon the DER.
      e.g. it appears that there is a significant proportion of teachers who are near retirement and are not heavy users of ICTs. There is a group of younger students coming through. But many/most teachers remain digital immigrants. What are the characteristics of school leaders?
    • The digital native myth?
      Not all students are digital natives and most aren’t necessarily all that literate members of the “digital world” (perhaps). The very need for the DER to prepare them suggests that you can’t simply assume they can use the technology.
    • Teacher educators and their level of preparation.
      In my very limited experience many of the university academics teaching pre-service teachers aren’t that comfortable with computers. What are the implications of their limited comfort? Does the limited use of technology in teacher training impact new teachers’ use of computers?
    • Government and consultants as digital immigrants.
      The ICT training mapping report mentioned below seems to be a prime example of consultants/advisors talking the “digital revolution” but falling back onto traditional, top-down, controlled approaches to preparing people for it. This strikes me as demonstrating a fairly strong immigrant accent.
  • Pedagogy.
    • What a difference 1-to-1 makes.
      If all students have laptops, especially laptops with broadband connections, that opens up a whole new set of pedagogies. What are the implications of 1-to-1? What are the difficulties that existing schools have had? Do all teachers make the transition?
    • Is there a mismatch between the requirements of pre-service teachers and the capabilities of universities?
      e.g. the following quote from this report

      The evidence presented in this paper strongly points to fundamental systemic flaws in the pre-service teacher education system in Australia in terms of developing teacher competence in embedding ICTs in pedagogy and practice.

  • Past experience.
    • A quick summary of what has happened in the past in connection to the integration of ICTs into secondary education (e.g. the Cuban reference above).
  • Product.
    • Technological fetishism.
      The idea that sexy technology often prevents critical reflection on its appropriateness. e.g. the schools that are leaping toward iPads even though there are some who have significant qualms about an iPads ability to act as a creative tool. Especially in terms of allowing students to program and more generally create with the tool.
    • Information manipulation versus creation/construction.
      Maybe expand a bit on the previous point drawing on Papert’s (half remembered by me) criticism of school-based computing as being focused on information manipulation, rather than creation.
    • Purchase of hardware is the least expensive part.
      Make the point that we’re now living in a time when the initial hardware cost is by far the smallest cost of this sort of large scale project. Not only is their the on-going need to fund upgrades, but more broadly there is the cost of training, support etc.
    • Technology not being neutral.
      e.g. Interactive White Boards (IWBs) tend to maintain the teaching status quo. The teacher up the front, the students listening, maybe with the odd one doing an activity. Is this a good thing? A necessary transition step?
  • Process.
    • Overly teleological.
      As a government funded strategy the DER is going to be overly teleological. i.e. goal driven. The government will allocate money for specific tasks, tasks that will have KPIs that must be met. This will create a range of problems, with the most important being that it offers little scope for responding to new insights generated during implementation.

What is in the DER?

From the DER site

  • $2.4 billion “to support the effective integration of ICTs in Australian schools inline with the Government’s broader education initiatives, including the Australian curriculum”.
    Question: Does that money include funding for the NBN? This page suggests not, but I remain skeptical.

    Though the guide for ICT strategic planning suggests it is $2.2 billion over 6 years

  • $27.2 million NBN-enabled education and skills services program.
    4 year program from July 2011 funding proposals for “innovative online and interactive education and skills services using the NBN.” Mmm, seems to be more double dipping/naming, DER=NBN?
  • The National Secondary School Computer Fund.
    Which aims to have 1:1 computer to student ratio by the end of this year for all students from 9 to 12. With $1000 per computer for purchase and $1500 for installation and maintenance. This is not necessarily laptops. Can be networks, tablets, more desktops etc.
  • The ICT innovation fund.
    $16 million for four projects to help teachers and school leaders use ICT more effectively in the classroom. The four projects are
    1. Teaching Teachers for the Future – led by the ALTC.
    2. ICT in everday learning: Teacher online toolkit – led by Education Services Australia.
    3. Anywhere, anytime teacher professional learning – NSW DoE.
    4. Leading ICT in learning – Principals Australia
  • Apparently there is an “ICT Proficiency Project” being developed.
    It’s part of the broader Digital Strategy for Teachers along with the Innovation Fund. A strategy that has also produced a ICT strategic planning guide for Australian schools (and the teleological emphasis begins) and a national mapping of ICT-based professional learning
    Which I am sad to say, after starting off okay in the overview. Comes up with some very top-down recommendations that seem to demonstrate a lack of understanding of how things work in the online world.
  • And don’t forget the repositories.
    There is a stream of work on Online curriculum resources and digital architecture that

    aims to facilitate sustainable change in the use of learning technologies by supporting schools’ access to and engagement in quality teaching and learning environments through the effective integration of digital teaching and learning resources and infrastructure.

    Which draws on $28.6 million allocated in 2008. There appear to be three key activities

    1. develop high quality resources;
      Again an apparent mismatch between the “ethos” of the “digital world” and the old controlled, centralised production model.
    2. Interoperable systems and digital architectures.
      While interoperability is important, I do wonder why Australian schools (a fairly small player in the digital world) needs to develop their own?
    3. Development of policies, protocols etc to enable schools to safely and seamlessly communicate, collaborate etc.
  • Surveys of school broadband connectivity.
    e.g. the 2010 survey which suggests some on-going discussion about the relationship between school’s existing broadband connections and the brave new world that is the NBN. 63.4% (72% in metropolitan regions) of schools have fibre, 32.8% copper/ADSL. 52.6% have download speeds between 5-20Mbps. Most are with Telstra.


Cuban, L. (2001). Oversold and Underused: Computers in the classroom. Cambridge, USA: Harvard University Press.

How do you increase sharing? Create an interactive website?

I’m in the process of reading up on the Australian Federal Government’s Digital Education Revolution. There appear to be some interesting things going on, but there are also a few things that I’m shaking my head at.

For example, there is this report that maps ICT professional learning which includes range of recommendations, some of which are quite good. For example, Recommendation 2 sounds good

Recommendation 2: Foster transparency: share what works in professional learning for ICT

Helping teachers share what they do and be aware of all the good stuff others are doing is, I believe, an important enabler for improving the quality of ICT use in schools.

But why oh why did they have to recommend this solution?

That funding for school-based ICT professional learning is supported by an interactive website that shares good practice and fosters accountability through transparency of practice.

Why do government reviews, projects and bodies think that creating yet another website is going to encourage sharing? Is there any such website that has actually worked well in a sustainable way? ALTC failed at this approach, didn’t they?

I hesitate to use it, but haven’t they heard of “Web 2.0” and of aggregation. Why are they seeking to replace the individual blogs and websites of teachers for publishing and the use of search engines and social media/networks for finding the really good stuff?

Based on my experience during my first 32 days of prac teaching, the Learning Federation/Scootle sites hosting “learning objects” are used in schools. But my experience using those sites was that using Google to be much more rewarding in terms of the diversity and quality of the learning resources I found for teaching.

I am assuming that the main rationale for this approach is so that accountability can be fostered. i.e. that someone can check the quality of the practices being shared. I find this assumption that someone has to check the quality to somewhat condescending (i.e. it assumes that teachers can’t judge that themselves) and demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of how the new “digital world” works. Which is a bit sad as one of the aims of the DER is to prepare students for participating in the “digital world”.

The freedom of academia: strategised, KPI'd, and quality assured away

@sthcrft has reflected and expanded upon this article from The Australian on research graduates wanting a career in academia. In particular, the point is made that increasingly academics are payed a comparative pittance, have little or no job security, and being sent mixed messages about the relative importance of research and teaching (see the last paragraph of The Australian article). I’d like to add my 2c worth.

Just over a year ago I made a conscious decision to take the opportunity offered by a redundancy to get the hell out of academia. Dominant amongst a range of reasons for leaving was the increasing destruction of the freedom/autonomy typically enjoyed by an academic position. Freedom in the sense of Dan Pink’s Drive mantra about autonomy, mastery, and purpose. The freedom to apply the knowledge and insight gained through research to doing good things in both teaching and research. A freedom that has been significantly reduced through at least three factors

  1. Strategy.
    In response to a tightening higher education funding environment universities are increasingly strategy led. A strategy developed by the senior management and which must be implemented. If you aren’t helping achieve the strategy you will be frowned upon. A little bit of autonomy lost.
  2. KPIs.
    Strategies lead to KPIs, which lead to task corruption. Where the bigger picture gets lost in the narrowed focus on a particular outcome. e.g. the KPI to have high response rates on course evaluations (even though there are significant questions about their value). A focus that creates a slippery slope of silly ideas to ensure the response rate is high, rather than the quality of the response. The focus becomes meeting the KPI, rather than exploring.
  3. Quality assured.
    The problem with QA is that it assumes that consistency is quality. This is entirely problematic given something as diverse as teaching at a university. The checklists and templates of QA reduce the majority of teaching to the lowest common denominator and doesn’t even ensure quality as box ticking becomes an important teaching skill. To do something different than the checklist or the minimum standard is seen as wasteful, a little more freedom lost.

This is not to suggest that unbridled academic autonomy is the solution. That approach has its own set of enormous flaws that have plagued academia. It is to argue that some institutions are going to far the other way. Academia is becoming overly constrained and consequently destroying the freedom to innovate and explore that made academia attractive to me. Being reduced to an implementor of bad strategies seemed to be the time to get out.

Myself as teacher and learner

The following is a first draft of part of an assignment for a University course titled “Learning and Pedagogy in Secondary”. A part of the assignment description is

It is important for you as an emergent secondary school teacher to reflect on your own attitudes and perceptions towards learning; to understand your own preferred learning styles and strategies; and to identify any areas that you have little experience of or may not prefer. Many of the students in your classes may learn in very different ways to you, so it is important that you are aware of your own biases and consider ways to address these to meet the needs of all learners. In this section identify and reflect on your own strengths and weaknesses, especially in relation to using strategies for Dimensions 1, 2 and 5 and reflect on what this means for your work as a secondary school teacher.

As a learner and teacher

In high school I was probably what some might call a “girly swot“. But that characterisation might be entirely wrong in terms of what my fellow students thought given that I wasn’t one to engage in conversation about their perceptions of me. I was quite happy to beaver away at some piece of academic work. For example, I was the nerd who completed all the set mathematics exercises during class time. At least if I valued that academic work. My only failing grade at high school was in metal work. A subject in which I had little prior experience, no innate talent, and no interest.

In completing the mathematics exercises I was intrinsically motivated enough by the challenge of the mathematics exercises and sufficiently indoctrinated by the industrialised, academic-focused school system to do what I was told. Consequently I left school with little knowledge of the practical relevance of mathematics and only a shallow appreciation and understanding of the field. Something that is coming back to bite me as a trainee high school mathematics teacher for two reasons. First, my indoctrination into the current industrialised, academic-focused schooling model leaves me with little understanding of the experiences and perspectives of those who have not been indoctrinated (i.e. what appears to be a significant majority of students currently at school). Second, my school-focused understanding of mathematics is a poor foundation upon which to construct authentic learning experiences for these dis-engaged students.

This assignment and broader discussions in all of the courses makes it seem necessary to label myself through learning styles, multiple intelligences, and/or personality styles. According to the Kiersey Temperament tests I am an architect confirmed by a couple of tests. The results of a “multiple intelligence” test can be viewed here as can results from a Soloman and Felder type learning styles test. Though I retain a skeptical perspective on the value and use of such insights, there is a level of consistency. I’m an introvert, reflective, and intuitive learner, but am neither really visual or verbal, nor sequential or global. In terms of implications for teaching there is a possibility of being seen by students and colleagues as aloof or arrogant, not a positive in terms of a task that rests heavily on building good relationships. Perhaps more useful, is the understanding that there are differences in terms of preferences and personalities and that good teaching should reflect that diversity.

As a student who achieved levels of academic success the attitudes, perceptions and habits of mind I use for learning are fairly well match what the Dimensions of Learning suggest. This makes it somewhat easier to model these, but at the same time can also reduce awareness of students not practising these skills. Becoming more aware of students limited practice of these dimensions and modifying lessons appropriately needs greater focus. In terms of content and curriculum knowledge (dimension 2) the biggest challenge remains to increase my level of PCK and TPACK. As a successful student, I have good knowledge of my two subject areas: mathematics and information technology. That knowledge, however, is not sufficient for teaching. I need to engage in more reading, experimentation, and reflection designed to increase my knowledge of how these subject areas can be taught. In addition, teaching information technology also requires some knowledge of specific technologies and the common technologies used in schools (e.g. Access and Visual Basic) are not technologies that I have previously used. Some upskilling here is required.

It is arguable that improving my level of PCK or TPACK covers what I’m seeking to improve this term. At a more specific level, I am aiming to work on the following this term

  • Improve and expand my PCK around mathematics, with a particular emphasis on addressing the relevance problem.
  • Expand knowledge of the tools being used for IPT at my placement/internship school.
  • Increase my understanding and ability to build relationships with all students, but especially the “non-academic” students.
  • Develop ideas for how to effectively inhabit and extend the existing learning environments within each of the courses I’ll be teaching within.

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