the PLP experience – some reflections

Joining the Powerful Learning Practices group, and grappling with using web 2.0 technologies has been hard work, time consuming, occasionally frustrating, but ultimately very satisfying. I’d started off as a PLP member having some understanding of the “why” and even something of the “how” using web 2.0 technologies might be useful to enhance student learning experiences. But there is nothing like having to “walk the walk”, to actually try a few things and get one’s hands dirty, to expand one’s understanding. And I’d underestimated the potential of web 2.0 technologies and the immediate collegial feedback and support it offers, to add substantially to my own professional growth.

So, what have I learnt/achieved? Modest gains but important ones I believe. Technically, I’ve developed confidence and some competence in podcasting, podcatching and blogging and have gained some experience and food-for-thought from trialling these with classes of students. I was pleasantly surprised and somewhat bemused to see how students in my Indonesian classes, after listening in their own (home) time to some Indonesian language-related podcasts I had created, talk positively about their usefulness and get inspired to create their own podcasts in turn and post these online for other students to share. I had just assumed that, since there were already commercially produced audio files available (associated with their Indonesian text book), that a few more that I produced wouldn’t be such a big deal. But there was something about the fact that it was their teacher’s voice, not the voice of someone they didn’t know, and that that voice was posted for a potentially much wider audience to hear, that seemed to strike a chord with them.

I’ve also been able to draw on my experience with the PLP Ning and with Elluminate sessions to help bring useful insights to the conversation currently taking place in our school about the place of web 2.0 technologies in enhancing learning. Specifically, insights about how web 2.0 technologies can play a significant role in preparing students (and teachers) for a 21st century which will increasingly:
– expect and require digital competence,
– expect and require that all individuals will be able to frame insightful questions and know how to find relevant information, craft answers, and refine these answers in light of feedback actively sought and found
– be more easily negotiated by citizens with understandings and experiences of online collaborative learning,
– be enjoyed more fully by citizens who, rather than being merely passive consumers of information, analyses and multi-media communications, are also willing and able to create and disseminate such communications of their own devising.

So, I was able to be an advocate to the Principal’s executive group at our school (since I was able to talk from a position of having some first-hand experience) for those individual teachers who wanted to set-up blogs and use social networking sites to be a means by which they could focus on school learning activities (including, but not limited to specific school subject-related learning). Fears about relinquishing ‘control’, and about potential inappropriate use/behaviour of participating individual students, or undesirable ‘outsiders’ were able to be allayed.

Still much more to learn, much more work to be done with other teachers to encourage them to get out of their comfort zone, much more for me to try with my classes, more for me to do by widening my own online professional networks, but I recognise that I don’t have to know all the answers before I start – after all, one of the great advantages of using web 2.0 technologies is being able to utilise their power to harness the creative talents of huge numbers of people around the globe who can and do quickly respond to calls for help, and who provide feedback, encouragement and useful suggestions to challenge, extend and improve my thinking and that of my students

student learning on-line: dipping toes in the water

Toward the end of 2008, I sent out an email to the year 7s at our College to gauge whether there would be any interest among students in participating in a online year 8 class in 2009 of Indonesian language. The rationale was simple. All students studied 2 Languages Other Than English (LOTEs) in yr 7 (for a semester each), then had to choose one LOTE to continue with in year 8. The timetable precluded them from continuing with two LOTEs in classes in yr 8. This would provide the means for interested students to keep a second language going through year 8 (and, if they wanted to, beyond year 8, since the timetable structure at higher year levels was less restrictive, so students could potentially be able to study two LOTEs to the end of their secondary schooling)

A few individuals expressed interest, enough to give me some encouragement to put some time and effort into setting up a course online – well, on our College intranet at least. This can be accessed by authorised students through the internet from home or from anywhere else. In theory, if it was set-up directly on the internet, then students from anywhere could access and participate in the course but that option, at this stage, remains something for the future. Initially, I wanted to walk before I ran and set-up something that was small and manageable.

So, one semester later, how do I think it has gone? Well, when it came to the crunch, and students had to commit to the course, buy the same textbooks as those other Indonesian language students who were studying the language in timetabled classes, catch up face to face once a fortnight during a lunchtime, and be prepared to follow the online course timeline and submit work, the initial expressions of interest shrank a little to leave three keen students.

To their great credit, they have completed a semester of an online course that is over and above the normal full timetabled class load that they are still expected to cope with. In addition to the homework that they, like other students, are expected to complete for other subjects, they also have had to cope with extra study associated with this online course -and they have completed it admirably. For 13 year olds, I believe that that is quite an achievement.

I’ve had a go at setting up the course in such a way that students could ‘self-manage’ – the scope and focus of course modules is outlined, an online course calendar provides them with the information of what needs to be done and by when, there are podcasts that I’ve created to augment the texts and associated audio files that they have purchased, I’ve created some online games, quizzes and tests, and a discussion board. They have created some online language games of their own which they have shared. They seem to have enjoyed the course and been able to improve their Indonesian competency without finding it too onerous.

Things that haven’t worked so well? Initially we scheduled face-to-face meetings during a lunchtime every fortnight: just enough to ensure that all was progressing well, and enough to provide opportunities to show them how to do some of the technical things like use certain sorts of software for creating language games, making sure they all were able to upload their work to the online site, etc. One of the great frustrations was that there would often be other events scheduled ‘at the 11th hour’ that would trump our scheduled face-to-face meetings. Once it was a one-off extra choir practice session, another time one pastoral care group organised a pizza lunch, another time one of the boys concerned was given a lunchtime detention by one of his teachers, and so on: all very disruptive to a program where there were only a very number of face-to-face sessions scheduled in the first place.

But all four (students and teacher) of us continue to learn and are keen to persevere.

Special thanks go to Dianna Walker who has worked tirelessly with me to structure the online components and to work with the students to ensure they were confident and competent with the various technical skills required to participate fully in the course.

Learning with Web2.0 – Reflections on a PD Day

The venue, on the verdent flanks of Mt Dandenong, to the east of Melbourne, was serene.  The agenda for this professional development day for the heads of faculty was ambitious: to dig deeply into the issues of using web tools to enhance deep learning. So, how did it go?

Whilst I’d been too involved in the planning of the day (and delivery of the initial “Setting the scene” session) to be able to give an objective evaluation of the day, my impressions suggested that it went very well. 


There were some glitches regarding internet connectivity (not all could use their newly registered and activated blog as a running diary/journal of their day’s experiences. But most could and the rest could write their reflections in Word and hopefully will put these thoughts into their blog in the near future when they have internet access). 


I was always cautious of proselytizing but figured that jumping straight into talking about and playing with web tools without first getting people to be comfortable with the “why?” would be perhaps even more of a risk.  In retrospect, I think the first session was justified and did what it was designed to do (though I’d be interested to hear what others thought) – it gave a rationale and set the scene nicely for the guest presenter, Andrew Douch, to do his thing.


I knew Andrew would be quite an inspiring speaker and would be able to give lots of examples of real success (by any measure) in using various ICT tools (particularly podcasting) to enhance student motivation and engagement and to foster deep learning particularly with his own VCE classes.   


I think it was fair to say that he was able to deliver admirably in this regard – and was able to buttress compelling examples of his own teaching experiences with examples of other teachers at his school.


There was a lot of positive energy in the staff conversations at lunch – a real “thumbs up” I thought.


The hands on session on podcasting was also good.  Though I’d made a number of podcasts myself beforehand, I still managed to learn quite a few things and got a few tips from Andrew for doing things more efficiently.


We shortened the plenary session at the end of the day since it had been a fairly long and full-on day already up to that point.  We talked about a few things that we need to follow up back at WFC.  I need to talk further with Warren and Dianna about the issues of teachers setting up sites “out there” on the web (eg Facebook accounts) compared to using the intranet structure we already have.  Each option has advantages and disadvantages.  Maybe the way forward will be figuring out what sort of judicious mix of the two strikes the correct balance.  

Obviously the sorts of answers we will come up with will be predicated on the recurring questions – “what sort of learning are we aiming for our students to achieve?”  “How can we do this in a manner that engages/motivates students?”  and “How can we do this in time efficient ways?”  At least all those present today know why this is such an important discussion for us to have.


I think most have gone away with the intention of trying some “new stuff” and a better sense of why it is such an important challenge for us to undertake. 


So what should we be teaching our kids?

This compendium of ICT-related skills for the 21st century is worth scrutinizing – Blooms digital taxonomy.

The original version of Bloom’s taxonomy, and the revised version, are fine as far as they go.  But, as author of the digital taxonomy, Andrew Churches, notes:

“The elements and actions cover many of the actions we undertake in our classroom practice, but they do not address the newer objectives, processes and actions presented by the emergence and integration of ICT into the classroom and the impact on the lives of our students”. 

This digital taxonomy is an attempt to build on Bloom’s revised taxonomy and to redress the omission.

The teaching journey and Web2.0

I recently came across a post by Darren Kuropatwa, who was reflecting on his evolution over the last few years in using web2.0 technology in his classrooms.  Have a look!  

Darren is a Maths teacher but his experiences have relevance for teachers of any subject.  I found it very heartening that even web2.0 savvy gurus like Darren started small: he explored some web tools and thought of some wonderful ways to use them to engage kids in the learning process and to foster understanding.  He met the occasional dead end.  Slowly but surely, he continues to build up his repertoire of powerful teaching practices.

I’m keen to try the Scribe Post idea.  What a great way to get kids to reflect on what they are learning, to give them some ownership of this learning and to give them a larger audience with whom their reflections can be shared!

The Power of Collaboration

Upon creating my first blog and being plagued and frustrated by all sorts of problems when attempting to edit, I put out an S.O.S. Sure enough, my colleague and friend, Marie Salinger relplied with this message:

“Not sure why these issues are happening. I have always found the interface very easy to use. Don’t recall any error messages similar to the ones you describe. Will try to do a few things here – just to test. You can delete when ready”

And the insert that she added to this blog (see just below in this post), as part of the process to test out how it was working, was fascinating itself. I was stuck by the serendipidous irony that the general theme of the main video she inserted (and the other videos associated with it) was about the power of people sharing ideas (using online platforms, for example, to pool and unleash their combined creative energies to solve problems and come up with brilliant innovations). Thanks for sharing Marie!

schools and schooling – what’s changed and what needs to change?

Are we adequately equipping our students to confidently and competently navigate the complex and changing world in which they find themselves now and in which they will find themselves in the future?
It is a question that educators the world over have asked themselves since time immemorial and a question that perhaps has an urgency now as great or greater than ever before. 

I teach at Whitefriars College, a secondary college in Melbourne, Australia.  10 years ago, Whitefriars College decided that all students would be equipped with laptop computers.  It was envisioned that such tools would give the students and the teachers tha ability to communicate with each other any time and the potential to access a wealth of information anytime, anywhere.  It was anticipated that they would have access to a cornucopia of resources from the biggest library in the world  – the world-wide web

For most of the last 10 years we have focused on the notion of the internet primarily as an incredibly rich, if somewhat chaotic, source of information that teachers and students alike could mine to enrich their understandings (assuming that they were taught the skills to efficiently search, critically filter and evaluate the wealth of information ‘out there’).  Similarly, our own College intranet was seen primarily as a repository of all sorts of useful information – if not a ‘one-stop shop’ then, potentially at least, a ‘first-stop shop’ for the bulk of the information most relevant to our learning programs. 

Today, enormous mountains of information about every conceivable topic can be quickly accessed at the touch of a button.  It is easy to be buried under a huge avalanche of facts, figures, insights, utterances and opinions about every subject under the sun.  Frenetic change, usually riding on the back of new discoveries and ideas (as well as the reworking, evolution and synthesis of older ideas), is the norm in virtually every facet of life.  And such change, ubiquitous and pervasive, leads to the creation of new mountains of information. 

In such a context, what should we be teaching our children?

 Many facts that were deemed, years ago, to be vitally important for us to teach our children are now seen to be of dubious relevance for today’s world. Additionally, the facts that might still have currency can be found quickly by judicious use of an internet search engine. 

Increasingly, it is acknowledged that the skills and understandings that we should be teaching are those that have utility across many disciplines, and whose relevance is more likely to be enduring in today’s rapidly changing world.  These include the skills and understandings;
– to quickly find, critically sift, check and analyse a wide variety of sources of information,
– to share and critique ideas (and have one’s own ideas critiqued by others, near and far),
– to create and refine, and
– to present ideas clearly, effectively and efficiently, in a variety of ways appropriate for different audiences. 

So, if these sorts of skills and understandings are deemed to be of critical importance, how has Whitefriars utilised (and helped students to utilise) ICT to help develop them? Our use of computers and information communications technology at the College has evolved over the years.  Yes, we probably have the first ‘dot point’ (efficiently finding and judiciouslly filtering information) covered ‘in spades’. Yes, email communication between teachers and students remains an important method of seeking and obtaining quick feedback.  Yes, use of the internet and intranet remains a useful and very efficient way to find information.  The rest of the listed skills and understandings we are working on but still have a way to go. Various software applications are utilised which are helpful for filtering, manipulating, creating or demonstrating ideas and products.  The sorts of learning resources that we are creating, and providing student and teacher access to, have evolved to include an increasing number of interactive programs and learning activities.  Up until recent years, however, the interactivity has generally been between the student and the program rather than simultaneous/synchronous interactions between multiple users. 

In the last few years this paradigm has been challenged by the notion of so-called web 2.0 technologies.  The internet is no longer viewed merely as a place where we can find (or to which we can upload) static information.  Increasingly, it is seen as a platform that individuals can use to communicate or network with others, to share and critique and collegially edit information and ideas.  Use of blogs, wikis, and various online social networks are just some examples of the many types of human intra- and inter-group online connections that are becoming increasingly ubiquitous. 


The challenge for educators over the last few years has been, and remains, manifold; to keep focused on what they believe to be the highest priority learning outcomes that will best serve our students, to keep abreast of and become skilled users of information and communication technologies, and to continually reflect on and re-appraise the nexus between the technology available and the ways it might be adapted and utilized to foster the skills, insights and understandings deemed to be most valuable.

























































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































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