Light Offerings

Surfing the digital light fantastic in education

Posted by jturner56 on October 30, 2012


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Why use computers for learning in schools?

Posted by jturner56 on April 29, 2017

Have been working on some practical projects, so not much time for blogging of late. But what has become apparent is that to generate educational ideas and progress of any substance one has to work hard to better understand the beliefs and practicalities that drive teachers and schools.

When it comes to digital, Andrea di Sessa summed it up well in Knowledge in Pieces (1988):

How one intends to use computers to aid learning depends in a dramatic way on what one thinks is important in learning.”

But if one can get beyond this, what can computer technologies bring to the learning equation. From my experiences these are

  • the instantaneous cognitive feedback that computers can provide the user and in doing so promote personal learning
    – as evidence in the adaptability of handling new software to responses to “what if” in spreadsheets
  • enhanced support for reflective thinking
    – as can be seen in word processed redrafting and problem solving through coding
  • new information processing opportunities and challenges
    – which we can now access through a hyper-connected world
  • creative opportunities for personal expression
    – from coding to digital art, personal ideas and intentions can find roots
  • personal control of materials
    – be it online courses of personal inquiries

All these can link to and from digital microworlds of learning.

Yet we still are beholden to an education system that in the main not only values Instruction, Industrial Structures and Closed Knowledge above all, but also seems to think that such a systemic approach can assimilate without accommodation to digital.

As an example, perhaps that is why we are still trying to understand why, after going on 40 years, Spreadsheets (as one example) is either an add-on or option within the school education complex.

Yet school can also be environments of ideas and hope. And as the saying goes, “where there is hope….:”

disessa, Andrea A. (1988).Knowledge in Pieces. In Forman, G. and P. Pufall, eds, Constructivism in the Computer Age, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Publishers.

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Why are we not educating for true human creativity and innovation?

Posted by jturner56 on February 4, 2017

To read Tony Wagner’s Creating Innovators (2012) and Most Likely to Succeed (2015 with Ted Dittersmith) is to share his concerns with the shortcomings of an educational system increasingly out of step with society (albeit with an American flavour) . To Wagner, what is needed is the development of innovators and entrepreneurs to counter the outsourcing and automation that the new digitally powered global knowledge economy is forging.

Wagner quotes Dr Robert Sternberg, a psychologist who has studied creativity and wrote “Creativity is a habit. The problem is that schools sometimes treat it as a bad habit.”

Creativity to Wagner comes from the interrelationship of expertise, creative-thinking skills and motivation. He sees this through the three Ps: play, passion and purpose. The importance of like minded teachers as role models is highlighted. Parenting must include confidence and courage in children taking risks supported by empathetic understanding. Schools must move beyond limited foci of college preparation and grading against predetermined standards. The community must embrace and value such undertakings.

An excellent case study of what this might mean might be found in Picasso. In Think like an Artist (2015) Will Gompertz highlighted Picasso’s 1901 journey from impressive copier (someone who had subsumed the skills and knowledge of many artists) to innovator. Someone who took these ideas to a new area of mood and colour (his blue period). Picasso went on to show how the essence of an idea can be extracted through thoughtful subtractions. Similar examples can be found in Einstein, Galileo, Shakespeare and Napoleon (as noted by Gompertz). It’s not just about Art.

In digital, as Neil Selwyn admits in Education and technology: Key issues and Debates 2nd Edition (2016), we too often look merely to do the same old things – just slightly differently. The risk is that ‘innovation’ will be done to education through digital means rather than ‘with’ or ‘by’. And if so the qualities that underlie education are likely to be  transformed in the name of efficiency and expediency.

If innovation matters to education, then be it digital or non-digital, educators need to seek to lead as innovators, harnessing their own commitment to play, passion and purpose to re-design, re-invigorate and realise. Empowering teacher and student voice towards such ends might be a good place to start. The courage to go beyond learning defined by measurable inputs to embrace and value what students can make with their learning (beyond just grades) is needed.

What opportunities do we provide our students to explore such insights, much less to develop such thinking?




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Overcoming Misconception through Education

Posted by jturner56 on January 16, 2017

Reading This Is Why You Hate Me – Dave Pell – Medium  highlighted the importance of considering cultural difference and context when trying to educate students about the wider world.

Reminded me of a Conference I participated in in 2009 (FlatClassroom), when a group of  students from Georgia in the United States worked with Middle Eastern students (and from Australia and other countries) in Doha, Qatar for a week on film making as groups. All were is awe with how much they had in common with each other. And from this grew cross-cultural understanding and respect.

As educators we must be mindful of the importance of understanding culture and context when engaging in educating for critical thinking. We can but open eyes to critical understanding and to help forge meaningful connections. Long may educators support this and be constantly reminded of what is possible and needed. This is our contribution to  abetter connected world.

PS…also interesting to note the range of comments, reflective of how humans can commit to supporting or attacking any idea. As always, the human condition. Technology just provides a window, if not a vehicle, for such thoughts. Perhaps in the end better to be public than hidden…but likely we’re going to find out if so in the not too distant future.

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What I learned this week: humanity + digital = futures unknown

Posted by jturner56 on January 9, 2017

In the light of Larry Cuban’s highlighting of school education as being complex rather than complicated (the latter inviting purely structural responses), this year I am sharing what I learned from some readings that took my notice this part week. Perhaps they left me wiser, although I feel they might leave more questions to pursue

This week I’m considering:

On the surface eclectic I know. But as educators we need to look for connections, to seek to understand, and then to see whether we can add value.

So if we accept that people have fundamentally differing views, then teaching will be at odds with at least some of the community. We need to look deeper to human needs and boundaries if we wish to influence beyond the surface. In an increasingly digitally accessible world it is easier to seek confirmation bias, either way. Educators must work against this by developing capacities to challenge assumptions, as well as countering willingness to jump to conclusions and bias.

As digital continues to rearrange and redefine what is work and what organisations need to take on board to add value to such reordering, how long can schools as a system continue as is? And in the meantime will we just continue to be content to blame the technology or teacher intransigence, while leaving infrastructure and pedagogical considerations in the too hard basket (or worse still, handing over to future sellers divorced from the human requirements of a good education?)


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On hamsters and hamster wheels and pizzas

Posted by jturner56 on December 7, 2016

Once there was a hamster wheel that was cherished as a provider of energy that fueled the hamster economy. It also helped keep young hamsters fit and occupied.

But over time the hamster elite wanted more and more from the hamster wheel. They devised ways to increase the hamster wheel speed by getting hamsters to go faster. They considered this was an improvement without end.

To help with this, they devised ways of measuring speed and using this to show how inefficient the wheel was becoming. They also blamed the wheel engineers, without ever listening or seeking to understand the impact of an aging, flawed system. Perhaps it was just a need for better more-committed engineers. The elite also created several variations of wheels to ensure that their own offspring wouldn’t be caught in any of these efficiency drives. They devised ways of putting wheels up against each other to identify winners and losers. This included testing whether feeding pizzas into the system led to better outcomes. Finally, they also noted that hamster wheels in other communities were becoming more efficient, while failing to note that in part this was because those communities could afford better wheels than they had previously. If only their wheel could go faster.

What they also failed to see was that the energy required by the community was no longer just from the hamster wheel, and that by pushing the young hamsters even harder, and in inconsistent ways, the energy that these hamsters had for non-wheel contributions was being dissipated. Those older hamsters who did not enjoy the energy provided by the wheel in egalitarian ways grew increasingly concerned about the whole situation. Some even contemplated sabotaging the wheel. Which led to the elite putting up dividing walls.

But of course, these elites had had to go through their own hamster wheels when younger, even if in less taxing ways. And of course, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander (although a hamster has no idea what a goose is, because if they ever met one they wouldn’t survive to tell others).

So the hamster community just kept on focusing on going round and round the wheel. One can only surmise what will happen when the goose finally arrives.

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Vale 2016

Posted by jturner56 on December 7, 2016

I see where I have not been posting all that much this year. Have been more involved with looking at school structural possibilities in real and relevant ways.

One area has involved working with teachers on a State University of New York – Buffalo (SUNY) course that has been developing teachers are researchers who can add value to themselves and the school. As we came to the end of this particular course I provide a snapshot of my rationale for use of educational technologies in schools. Beliefs play an important part in what is likely or even possible.

I have topped and tailed the video and provided it here for those who might be interested.

I look forward to the ongoing discussion with the teachers I am working with as we go into the next course which focuses on Action Research.

All the best for a well earned Christmas break and may 2017 be a better year all round.

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Digital, Maths & School. Two’s company, Three’s a problem

Posted by jturner56 on September 24, 2016

Each week in education is a heady mix of idea conversations, related readings and cognitive wonderings. At times it feels that we are all quantum educators; one can evaluate value and progress, but not at the same time.

This week I was drawn to two diverse readings. In 3 theories why digital learning access is good for students, Dr Liane Wardlow (from Pearson Education) examines three educational theories that she contends “bring huge potential for increasing learning“: Behaviorist, Social Cognitive (through modelling), and Information Processing theory. Within this “teaching should emphasize ways to increase desired behaviors, which can occur through connectionism or operant conditioning

Meanwhile, in Philosophy, beauty, complexity: what you are missing out on if you don’t do the maths, Nalini Joshi, Professor of Mathematics at the University of Sydney opines “Maths in schools is often presented as a rigid hierarchyTeachers present as priests pointing the one, true way to a solution. This is not what maths is about.” The need to “learn to celebrate the complex and creative in mathematics if it is to regain favour” is put forward.

What connects these two contentions? Perhaps the relationship between real Mathematics, School and what many contend should be the primary purpose of Digital use.

  1. Looking at School‘s approach to Mathematics learning, the weaknesses are there for anyone who is willing to look objectively
  2. Approaches to Digital in School are stuck in Assimilation thinking even as society takes on new Accommodations (see Piaget for more on what this means)
  3. The potential within Digital to support more powerful Mathematical exploration of complex ideas in creative ways is well documented for those who are willing to look beyond the School lens and its associated inequalities and failures to meet contemporary or future needs.

By the way, this is not new. Over thirty years ago Seymour Papert (1980) said it so much better “In my vision, the child programs the computer, and in doing so, both acquires a sense of mastery over a piece of the most modern and powerful technology and establishes an intense contact with some of the deepest ideas from science, from mathematics, and from the art of intellectual model building.” It was exhilarating to engage in this conversation again this week, even if the context is little different from twenty years ago.


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Are Screens In Schools a $60 Billion Hoax?

Posted by jturner56 on September 16, 2016

Like regular back-to-school routines, the highlighting of how computer screens have failed School emerge. Going all the way back to the mid-90s when Todd Oppenheimer opined The Computer Delusion, recent author Dr Nicholas Kardaras contends that Screens in Schools are a $60 Billion Hoax.

If only it was so simple. Call up one side of an argument and focus on the negative aspects  so that no meaningful way forward have to be put (except maybe by implication “if only we could go back to the good old days”).

This is not to say there aren’t two sides to this. The neo-Liberal aspects of Future sellers, based on promoting technology as savior, also have much to answer for.

A good reference point for this is a recent Larry Cuban (2013) book – Inside the Blackbox of Classroom Practice – which postulates “While many important instructional changes have occurred since the late nineteenth century in elementary and secondary school classrooms, no transformation in classroom authority or how teachers teach on the scale of the above fundamental structural, curricular, and cultural changes have altered classroom instruction.” Driven by what he termed dynamic conservatism. So what should the role of computers in schools be in the face of this?

Some options.

  1. inside-out: leave it to the teachers as optional. From experience this results in embedding Cuban’s contention
  2. outside-in: system solutions imposed without adequate change support mechanisms If schools focus more on using approaches primarily built on past values to control (they might say make) the future, this might continue to be limited. Straw man arguments in such circumstances are all too easy. None more so than it’s Teacher-centric versus Student-centered. Progressive versus Reasonableness.
  3. The potential of computer technologies to amplify positive cognition requires commitment to it’s potential for metacognition (through reflection and feedback), information literacy (through inquiry), digital literacy (through design thinking), engagement (local and global, digital citizenship (through community building), making (through personalised creativity), and empowerment as learners relevant to the world they face.What Papert termed “incubators of knowledge“, which I have seen add value for over three decades.

Papert, like Cuban, was interested in the limitations that teachers work under within School as an institution. The traditional system, for all its advantages, lacks in structural willingness to innovate (although some schools might from time to time seek to break out of the box). Closed knowledge too often overwhelms.

School is a teacher-centered system. What if we are faced with a system where student capacity to add value through technology use outstrips on average teacher capacity to adapt? If the balance between closed standardised systemic education and personal learning is altered through technological developments?

One related area needing more honesty is clarity about the expectations and purposes accorded to this, including the role of the teacher and opportunities that should be provided to all students. Then maybe we will start getting better value for money.




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Why we need Critical Thinking!

Posted by jturner56 on September 12, 2016


From a local widely-read Newspaper.

Demonstrates that it’s not just the Internet when it comes to sharing differing views.

How would you respond?

Perhaps applying Critical Thinking skills might help.

Such as trying to understand if there is any difference between ‘lesson performance’ and learning.

Says a lot about School.

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Digital influenced Shifts in Learning Reponsibilities

Posted by jturner56 on August 22, 2016

How should one respond to this request:

How do I organise my email inbox so that emails starred as important stay at the top of the inbox?

Traditionally a help desk might send instructions or arrange a visit (if a demanding request). I have also seen a ‘get back to you’ response (usually code for I have no idea so will need some time get my act together). Some might help a colleague (but can become wary of repeats that don’t seem to show any learning.) Putting the barriers up serves no-one.

Interestingly, I just googled How do I organise my email inbox so that emails starred as important stay at the top of the inbox? (note – changed e to g as we’re dealing with gmail) and received this as first up. Case closed.

So should the response be “google it!”?

This points to some interesting issues, apart from any expectation that workers should google as a prime problem solving strategy (Level 3 in my Digital Literacy rubric).

Gmail in many organisations is a systemic choice because of cost, alignment to the many with personal gmail accounts, and interconnected access to other services. So what responsibility lies with the organisation to solve workers questions? What responsibility to provide professional development for those who don’t meet Prensky’s Digital Natives expectations? What’s the role of a Help Desk?

Where do people fit into this mix? In my case we have increasingly focused on team pro-active development as increasingly expertise lies within the team. But this is challenging as teams change quicker than ever before. We have flattened approaches that make productive use of student expertise. We take every opportunity to demonstrate to individuals by example. We share problems encountered and solutions and strategies arising.

But this simple case highlights that as always, Digital with its inherent rates of change and personal choice remains a challenge to education based on the latter’s systemic controls that can carry over into intransigence (as seen in checkbox learning), up against personal expectations that the organisation bears problem solving responsibilities to meet individual needs. Systemic Expectations v Individual Capability and Interest. How best to empower in such an environment remains a mystery.

BTW, when I google learning personal v systemic I find three of the top 5 are from my contributions. Superficial at best.

There is much still to be done, although John Seely-Brown (2000) was talking about this many digital generations ago when he identified:

“knowledge can be produced wherever serious problems are being attacked and followed to their root. Furthermore, with the Web it is easier for various experts to interact casually—in the academy or in the firm—and to mentor or advise students of any age.” (John Seely Brown 2000)

The problem of the changing nature of knowledge between personal and systemic demands within a Digital Age is surely one of these. If only I could google it.




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