Month: July 2016

Moving Towards Connected Education

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Image attribution: “Connection” by Jerzy Durczak, Flickr. Creative Commons License

A response to The Connected Educator – Chapter One

Moving beyond cooperation to collaboration ….

Jennifer Gonzales wrote about the challenges vs the impetus for open door classrooms and provides a measured and convincing perspective here on her blog. I have been lucky in my work and study to have significant opportunities to truly collaborate with my colleagues and peers and experience structures that have required me to press outside of my comfort zone and play an active role teaching and learning with others, often without the option to shut the door and teach by myself.

My recent school has a team teaching structure, within which teachers worked in collaborative teams to prepare learning experiences for students, facilitate lessons, assess students and evaluate the whole experience. Classroom spaces are open and looking up to find the room filled with visitors is not uncommon.

It is a unique school where these structures are quite new to all involved, and is therefore not without challenges; but in the time I worked in this environment, I found the structure enabled me to learn constantly with and from my colleagues, to develop and refine ideas where discussion and planning invariably led to more interesting learning experiences than I would have planned on my own and genuine, honest evaluation where successes and failures were acknowledged and plans were made for improved future learning experiences.

Last session, the unit Digital Citizenship in Schools (ETL523) included a collaborative group task. Whilst again not without challenges, this assignment gave me a unique opportunity to see the power of multiple perspectives coming together in a digital space to develop and refine meaningful content.

These examples have been invaluable in developing my skills in a post closed door classroom environment, to feel comfortable working alongside my peers in robust processes that are focused on successful learning outcomes.

Collaboration in professional learning and practice ….

This week I have commenced a role as a Technology Coach, where I will be involved in supporting colleagues through the successful integration of technology in their classes. Whilst again, I anticipate there will be challenges, it is exciting to have opportunities to share knowledge, skills and learning to improve learning outcomes.

In a digital context, I have involved myself in a few different educational chats on Twitter, connecting with others from many different backgrounds and sharing resources and ideas. I have found these to be the kind of collaborative conversations that Nussbaum-Beach encourages (2012) – focused on topics of practice, solution-focused, rather than the complaints and negativity that are often too readily shared in many educational circles where teachers are overwhelmed and uncertain of how to move forward.

What’s new and different about learning for 21st century learners?

Learning no longer needs to be focused on remembering existing information, this can be found at the click of a button. More important today are developing skills to think creatively; critical thinking for problem solving; effective, collaborative relationship skills and multiliteracy – the capacity to interpret and apply information from a range of different sources and in various forms. However, learning in a more contemporary style does not just happen and these new focus areas need to be fostered. For example, creativity emerges in the intersections of existing and new knowledge. This intersection may be more readily found when communicating with a less homogeneous group than one’s real world connections. Thus a broad online PLN has the potential to help educators develop creative approaches in their classroom.

Multiliteracy and me ….

I like to believe that I am fostering my own multiliteracy skills through my work, study and professional use of social media. Although I can see that many others are doing an inspirationally better job than I am, my investment in this regard has greatly changed who I am as an educator over recent years. My visual brain enjoys the graphic version of Nussbaum-Beach’s “Day in the Life…” that can be found here.

References

Gonzalez, J. (2013). Open your door: Why we need to see each other teach. Cult of pedagogy http://www.cultofpedagogy.com/open-your-door/.

Nussbaum-Beach, S., & Hall, L. R. (2012). Defining the connected educator. In The connected educator: Learning and leading in a digital age (pp. 3-24). Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

Powerful learning practice. (2012). A day in the life of a connected educator – Using social media in 21st century classrooms – infographic. Retrieved from http://plpnetwork.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/ditl_infographic.png

New Culture of Learning

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Image attribution: Mark  Smiciklas, “Social Media Information Overload” Flickr Creative Commons Licence

In recent years, I have worked in one school where change was resisted by many and another where a ‘new culture of learning’ (Thomas and Brown, 2011) was more evident. The earlier example is a school where the students are generally compliant and many want to simply achieve results to get an ATAR, hence there are minimal behavioural issues and students ‘look’ involved in their work.  Sometimes challenge in the classroom can create an impetus for a creative, new response; here however, the perception of successful student engagement and learning was clouded by cooperative obedience.

Leadership began to see the need for progress and conducted a ‘visible learning’ investigation (based around John Hattie’s research); the results of which indicted that many students could not identify the specifics of what they were learning and could not see value in their learning experiences. This has given evidence for the school to build upon, convincing the more reluctant individuals to consider what will make learning more meaningful, relevant and necessary. It was great to see this momentum get started.

The more recent example is a school that embraces a ‘new culture of learning’ resembling that described by Thomas and Brown. In this context I have seen many exciting examples of teachers implementing a cultural shift from traditional methods to incorporate more examples of play, authentic learning, collaboration and creativity. The results of this have spoken for themselves; the more creative and enjoyable the task, the more students have engaged; and in a school system where non-submission is often an issue, some tasks have achieved 100% submission rates on the due date. Students were excited about their learning and wanted to share this with their teachers and peers.

My own personal shift as an educator has also been dramatic. Taking a role in a new school inadvertently meant teaching in unfamiliar territory and I have had to reimagine my teaching strategies, no longer the content expert. Interestingly, I found that the investment I made to structure facilitated, digitally connected units of study, enabled some very effective learning experiences when compared with classes for which I was a content expert and reverted to more traditional techniques.

My own learning journey through CSU is my third experience of distance study.  Knowledge Networks and Digital Innovation is thankfully a huge advance on my lonely earlier experiences of independent distance education, reliant on snail mail and inadequate local libraries. Through this degree, I have developed my skills as a connected learner, making the most of online tools to maintain my notes, research and course materials, connecting with the community through the forums and blogs (where I have learnt as much from others as from the module contents), developing and extending an ever-evolving online PLN to enable information to come directly to me through Twitter, RSS and other platforms. Starting this degree two years ago, the thought of sharing my ideas, research and knowledge in an online environment terrified me (admittedly, it is still quite intimidating) but I have come to realise that my inexpert opinions and insights can have value when shared with an online community; they have generated discussion and helpful feedback, leading to further learning through a broader PLN.

Modern life is complex and information overload can be quite overwhelming, however I would not want to go back to a pre-Web 2.0 world as the interactive, socially connected and creative digital world provides significant opportunities to learn with and from others, create and share content and to connect with experts in a unique and meaningful way; all of which enable me to augment my own learning journey with play, questioning and imagination, alongside that of students and educators with whom I work.

References

Hattie, J. (2012). Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning. Routledge. New York & London.

Thomas, D., & Brown, J. S. (2011). Arc-of-Life learning. In A new culture of learning: Cultivating the imagination for a world of constant change (pp. 17-33). Lexington, KY: CreateSpace.

Change is Afoot

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Image attribution: The Open Doors by ClaraDon. Source Flickr.  Creative Commons License.

The journey of my Masters study in Knowledge Networks and Digital Innovation has been eventful. I have completed 5/8 of the qualification since commencing in July 2014 and it has been an incredible journey of skill and knowledge acquisition, making connections, broadening my mind and evolving my career. My emerging qualification has now helped me change my career pathway for a second time, as I am soon to move schools and start a position as a Technology Coach, moving out of welfare and curriculum roles to establish myself more as a leader in digital learning. When I embarked on my study two years ago, I did not quite envision the speed with which my pathway might change and open opportunities. On the cusp of starting the unit, Knowledge Networking for Educators, I am excited to be undertaking a role in my work life that is now specifically relevant to my study, thus bringing together two enormous and previously disparate entities in my life.

Having been on leave after surgery in Term 2, I have enjoyed time where, whilst recovering, I have had the luxury to study unimpeded, create artwork, read novels and watch a myriad of TV series I would never normally be able. Amongst these activities,  I have been reading The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros. I have highlighted an inordinate amount of Couros’ text as it resonates with me so strongly.

Couros reaffirms so much of what I believe about the changes needed to engage innovation and progress in today’s schools. Couros sites a colleague’s concept that our world is at a “printing press” moment in time (2015, Introduction). We are amidst change and it is necessary that educators embrace it, as the ostrich-sand approach is no longer an option. As a darkroom photography teacher of old, my teaching was perhaps thrust through change more forcefully with the advent of digital photography than many of my colleagues. Costs rose, technology created a simpler option, the darkroom was closed and I had to reinvent myself. Not many educators have such an impetus, however it is just as necessary for all educators to remain vital. Couros warns that without innovation, educational facilities (amongst other organisations) will cease to exist.

How to embrace this change? Couros advocates a range of possibilities with a few ideas key to my perspective summarised here:

  • People are essentially social, embrace relationships and connections first and foremost
  • Invest in professional learning for teachers. We need time and a leadership commitment to support transition
  • Build trust, empathise, allow risk, embrace failure
  • Harness technology with learning as the goal
  • Less is more – select areas for innovation, with a strategic plan and prioritisation
  • Build a culture that celebrates success, enables collaboration and is oriented in a growth mindset

 

References

Couros, G. (2015) The innovator’s mindset. Dave Burgess consulting. San Diego. CA.

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