Digital Learning, Connectivism and the Role of the Teacher.

Material authored by Louise Starkey (Starkey 2011), and the YouTube Interview with George Siemens (Siemens 2013), reinforces the obvious; that is, access to the World Wide Web has greatly increased the opportunities for students adopt multiple learning pathways when engaging with the curriculum. Learning is now an iterative process which requires moving back and forth across knowledge numerous digital networks including engagement with Google Groups, following a person on Twitter, viewing YouTube videos, accessing information via Flipboard and Zite, discovering forums on Pinterest, discussions via Online Forums and a multitude other knowledge nodes.

Siemens’ interview had most impact on me. He acknowledged that education can be personalized “but learning comes through discourse and conversation with peers”, highlighting the importance of collaboration. Furthermore, he affirms the constructionist approach to “generate knowledge through playing with it” which then allows for “different uses of that knowledge.” 

For me, the above supports my strong affection for student-centred learning where students are active agents who are engaged in collaborative projects that are relevant to their real word, or where they are involved with sustained investigations that generate new ideas by extending upon the ideas of others. However, for this to become a reality, teachers need to see themselves as a facilitator of learning with the approach of a coach (Wang 2006).

I am the first to acknowledge that one constraint of the mandated curriculum is that it limits the potential for teachers to adopt the role of facilitator. However, a shift in the teacher role to that of a facilitator assists with the development of contemporary skills such as collaboration, critical thinking, problem solving; all skills required for the 21st century learning (Fullan and Smith 2000; BECTA 2004; Lyons 2007). To do this, the teacher “supports the students in their search and supply of relevant material, coordinates the students’ presentations of individual milestones of their projects, moderates discussions, consults in all kinds of problem-solving and seeking for solutions, lectures on topics that are selected in plenary discussions with the students and conforms to the curriculum” (Motschnig-Pitrik and Holzinger 2002).

With this in mind, and after my engagement with the above-mentioned authors, it is not enough for teachers to become facilitators. Facilitators must now understand that ‘connectivism’ is an essential part of contemporary pedagogy. For me, connectivism in a digital world is when a learner accesses information through a number of connections and uses that information to construct knowledge, often through those same networks.

I am fortunate to work in a learning community where teachers understand, respect and capitlaise upon the relative advantages of connectivism in a digital world. Through them I witness students utilising a range of digital technologies to access information and share that information through various learning platforms. I then see students connecting and collaborating with each other in a seamless manner where they then demonstrate their learning with the use of new ‘apps’ that they (more than likely) have discovered through their virtual learning network.

The willingness of teachers to engage with the connectivism of digital technology assists students to create knowledge and understand concepts through their participation of the digitally enhanced learning environment they access each and every day.



BECTA (2004). A Review on the Research Literature on the Barriers to the take up of ICT by Teachers: 29.

Fullan, M. and G. Smith (2000). “Technology and the problem of change.” Curriculum Matters: 2-5.

Lyons, T. (2007). “The Professional Development, Resource and Support Needs of Rural and Urban ICT Teachers.” Australian Educational Computing 22(2) , p. 22-31.

Motschnig-Pitrik, R. and A. Holzinger (2002). “Student-centered teaching meets new media: Concept and case study. .” Educational Technology & Society 5(4): 160-172.

Siemens, G. (2013). “Changing Schools, Changing Knowledge.” The Agenda with Steve Paiken. Retrieved 30/03/2014, from

Starkey, L. (2011). “Evaluating learning in the 21st century: a digital age learning matrix.” Technology, Pedagogy and Education 20(1): 19-39.

Wang, Y. (2006). “Technology projects as a vehicle to empower students.” Educational Media International 43(4): 315-330.


A Great Forum on Twitter

Yesterday, I received an invite from Jon Andrews @jca_1975 to participate in the #learningfrontiers forum on Twitter. Through @aitsl , Jon arranged an ‘active forum’ for one hour between 8 & 9 pm on Wednesday 19 March 2014. At around 8 pm educators from around Australia jumped onto Twitter, entered #learningfrontiers in the search tool and PRESTO, we were instantly connected in a virtual discussion room for the next hour.

Jon was invited by @aitsl to lead the forum by posing questions. As host, host Jon types in thw question starting with “Q1” and concluded his 140 character tweet with the hashtag #learningfrontiers.  When responding, people led with “A1” and also included #learningfrontiers in the response.

Jon’s first question was…. “Engagement is a community priority. Give E.G’s of HOW Sch L’drs & community partners create conditions for engagement?” The next 3 questions can be seen in the picture below.

Questions for #learningfrontiers 19 March 2014

The hour long forum was frenetic, inspiring, affirming, enriching, challenging and engaging – all in one! In that time I offered responses to questions, had some of my tweets retweeted, retweeted the tweets of others, answered one tro one questions put to me by forum participants, and also had my tweets favourited.

As part of this forum, I also engaged in ‘side conversations’. At one point I was offering colleagues a copy of our Pedagogy Leader Role Description. At another point, I shared a link to a video clip with @danhaesler & @stringer_andrea about teachers as coaches. From that conversation I was introduced to a blog which, in turn, saw me send the following email to @materdeiwagga teachers…..

Hello All,

Following on from our metaphor for this year ‘TEACHER AS COACH”, I found this when participating in the most recent #learningfrontiers forum on Twitter.
In the spirit of Professional Learning, it would be great if you responded to this blog. However, just reading the blog for 30 seconds or less would be great.

As part of the Forum, I was introduced to some excellent initiatives occurring in schools across the country. One of them included a school where teachers invited students to the Department Meetings. So, with a title of “Random Idea”, I sent this email to teachers…..

Hello All,

What about inviting students to the KLA Meetings next week?
Leave it with you.

No doubt I will get some interesting looks from teachers when I get up to speak at briefing in the morning.

In conclusion, #learningfrontiers reaffirmed my strong belief that Twitter offers an excellent professional learning network for anyone who wishes to participate in this virtual learning community. People are encouraging and supportive but also ask questions which challenge and occasional disturb me, in a good way!



Part of the Learning Journey

I am principal of a regional Catholic co-educational secondary school for 750 Year 7 to 12 students in regional New South Wales. I was appointed fort the start of the 2008 school year, the year of the Digital Education Revolution (DER) as introduced by the Rudd Federal Government. Since then my professional learning has been focused on leading teachers to explore the potential of digital technology to enrich student learning.

Very quickly, principals were required to be digital leaders. In May 2011 I engaged Delphian Learning to conduct an audit of infrastructure and digital learning. In September 2011, and after interviewing and surveying teachers, students and parents, an eLearning Plan was developed. The aim of the eLearning Plan was, and still is, ”for students to become ‘self-directed learners’ through the provision of learning opportunities which provide students with greater choice of subject matter, learning methods and pace of study.” The willingness of a majority of teachers to rigorously pursue this aim has resulted in students being more involved in decision‐making processes, extensively using digital technologies and increasingly ‘learn by doing’ with relevance to the real world. This is evidenced by:

  • 1:1 laptops for all students, including Year 7 & 8;
  • extensive fibre optic and wireless infrastructure which is reliable;
  • the Year 7 TED Program in an agile flexible learning space containing portable furniture without a teacher’s desk;
  • an online,  school developed Studies of Religion course using blended learning principles which compresses a two year course into one;
  • a school developed, game-based program for Year 8 French;
  • adoption of Moodle and extensive use of Google Drive for teacher and student collaboration;
  • team teaching approaches to Religion, English and HSIE courses in Year 8 for 146 students; and,
  • teachers globally connecting through Twitter and publicly reflecting through blogs. I was obligated to engage in this and that is how and came about.

Along the way there have been challenges; one of them being the apparent conflict between the HSC and Inquiry Learning; the other being the delicate balance between pursuing aim whilst responding to the government agenda of Australian Curriculum, NAPLAN and MySchools. INF530 provides an opportunity to address these challenges as the lead learner in one school community. INF530 will challenge me to reflect on my role as a ‘digital leader’; where I/we have been, and where I/we are going. Viewing Tim Burness Lee in The next Web of open, linked data reaffirms the need for students to develop the skills to use information to collaborate and solve real world problems (Rogers, 2002) as emphasised in the The Re-Working of Work, 2011.

As a principal, being immersed in the professional dialogue of INF530 will enable me to hear from thought leaders, develop leadership thoughts and express them via this blog. Reading further about Trends in Technology Environments will assist me in responding to the inevitable reorganisation of schooling that John Seely Brown discusses in The Global One School House. Seely Brown contests we need to completely rethink the learning landscape and that working as individuals is not enough. Knowing that is one thing, leading change in a school context is a complex challenge. That is why I have requested to read Eric Sheninger’s, Digital Leadership: Changing Technology for Change-Savvy School Leaders.