Light Offerings

Surfing the digital light fantastic in education

Posted by jturner56 on October 30, 2012



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On Robots, Learning and Papert/Plato

Posted by jturner56 on June 5, 2018

“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.
T. E. Eliot

I know at times I go too big picture in an effort to try and understand the interplay between digital and School. Today I go back to my micro-roots to try and explain why digital for learning means so much to me.

What better starting point than a simple mathematical shape, the Square.


When I first started teaching Mathematics (armed only with a textbook) I provided Platoic definitions that could be tested easily (multiple-choice anyone). Evolving patterns that required 51% understanding to ‘pass’.
(image from

Then I discovered programming (in thosesquare days with Logo) that enabled investigation, instant feedback systems and an opportunity to go further with mathematical inquiry (which provided non-judgemental assessments of understanding). Understanding how to program a Square led to everything from Geometric Art to Recursion, Chaos Theory to the Tower of Hanoi, Computer Poetry to Differentiation . Today this is still available in a Logo descendant, Scratch. What is different is that the Platoic educational requirement is for internal angles, whereas Scratch uses turning angles. What’s the difference apart from School seeing this as an existential threat?

To more current timmb3es and my work with a mBot Robot. Now to program the robot to create a square an investigation of speed and turn torque is needed. This results in an imperfect square (some teachers were up in arms about this) but opens questions of friction and technological imperfections (that raised in my mind Einstein’s theories that required several years if not decades of machine development before they could be confirmed).

Robot Square video is
Robots can be used to support creative learning – such as fashion shows – scientific problem solving – such as understanding of space and simple machines, to empowerment of innovative thinking through student choice and agency. A student in a robot-making, coding environment can be a powerful learner. More on this here.

So Schools remains at loggerheads catering for Platoic elitism (which serves some even as the bottom falls out) while technology allows the individual to strike out in their own learning journeys. Digital Age learning should embrace learner agency through digital explorations and ownership. Multiple-Choice testing and understanding driven by data measurement through tech-control serves only the diminishing elite, defensive gatekeepers and those fortunate to have pathways laid out for them.

As Seymour Papert, who worked with robots while developing Logo in the 1970s, explained, computers should be approached to unlock children’s “powerful ideas.” Students learning through construction is a powerful, well articulated idea that carries through to Making advocacy today. It is a backbone of the 1:1 robot approach we have pursued – to empower students to make, personalise and extend their learning.

One of the weaknesses of this ‘confliction in priorities’ is that it is treated as an either-or issue. What it should be is finding ways through to engage, enable and empower students as learners within learning environments dedicated to advance the 5 21C attributes (creativity, collaboration, communication, critical thinking and community). A strong base serves the student well, but in the absence of context and wider inquiry opportunities beyond  regurgitation  we are left with a diminished educational structure.

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Posted by jturner56 on June 4, 2018

Innovation Fair 2018 Medals (Larson) - 1A cross-post this week as have been working on my school’s Grade 7 Innovation Fair which culminated on Friday. Check it out here

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The Digital Classroom

Posted by jturner56 on May 27, 2018

How do you use digital to extend learning? Peter D John & Steve Wheeler in The Digital Classroom: Harnessing technology for the future (2008) provide a good list to drawn upon. How well, then, does your use of digital:

  1. extend the classroom
  2. provide 24/7 access
  3. integrate Real Life with Virtual Life  learning
  4. provide access to digital resources
  5. help streamline feedback (including formative & summative assessments)
  6. advance digital literacies (planning, adapting, information literacy, problem solving, creating, collaborating, citizenship)
  7. advance media literacies, information literacies and digital life principles
  8. provide opportunities for experiential and reflective learning
  9. support each student’s learning progress
  10. extend & connect learning communities

We use this as a conversation focus as we develop and support the use of digital as an integral part of school education. The software choice is not the most important choice; what is done with it is much more important. Use needs to be able to:

develop Digital literacy
– support Subject learning / Curriculum objectives (including inquiry, ‘21C Skills’…)
– Engage, Enable, Empower (through digital -based creativity)
– support Home Learning
– cover for closed school days to maintain learning continuity

How effective is your digital classroom?






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Grammar of the School Year: Looking Forward & Backward

Posted by jturner56 on May 20, 2018

As the end of the (northern) school year fast approaches it is a time to reflect on what has been achieved over the school year, to look forward to the new year of hope and renewal, and to consider the state of play.

In the southern school year this is a time for decision-making as pieces are moved or not moved depending on a complex interplay of parts. (In the northern school year this would be in November, coinciding with the impeding end of the southern school year).

It is these three systemic considerations (decisions, evaluation, renewal) that underpin an important part of the grammar of schooling. A term put forward by Tyack and Tobin in 1994, it denotes the pattern of schooling that defines boundaries for change. For those like Larry Cuban it still defines the dominant structure of schooling through age-grading and a “machinery of instruction.”

Up against this the constant change of digital presents a challenge. Being involved in this  means constantly being willing to challenge both understanding and a domineering status quo. Evaluation, Progress and Renewal are key driving forces:

Evaluation (which is personal judgement up against systemic demands)

From the inside there are five levels one can work on

  1. Raising awareness and understanding: on potential value of new technologies for the system, teacher and hopefully the student
  2. Achieving inclusion. Perhaps only a foothold or some space and time segmented out. Held there by energy that like a rubber band can quickly retract when such energy is removed
  3. Advancement: within the school structures through connecting footholds and sections
  4. Connecting: to change structures through breaching school gates guarded emphatically by their gatekeepers
  5. Embedding / Entrenching: to an extent that the change agent can depart and the change will endure.

Progress (which is never as far as one hope, but hopefully far enough to see some light)

Like technology, school change is two-sided. Sometimes one-step forward, two-steps back. Other times two-steps forward, one-step back. Using the Evaluation levels progress can be charted. For this year

  1. Raising Awareness and Understanding: on the Digital Life of students as mobile phones become a more integrated part of self. Also VR projects to provide opportunities to adapt new technologies into creative outcomes.
  2. Inclusion: of MYP Design as a subject to enable students deeper learning opportunities as coders, publishers and creators.
  3. Advancing: of Digital Literacy frameworks as part of curriculum design and delivery. And of Innovation through student-freed Innovation Fairs dedicated to letting them go higher and deeper in their learning and its application.
  4. Connecting: expertise such as learning technologist, librarian, curriculum gatekeeper and makers (with guidance support to come) as a driving force
  5. Embedding: 1:1 iRobots (i for integration) across grade levels where each students will be able to make, code and extend their own robot.

Renewal (which with digital is always there if one looks)

Of course there are battles lost and battles continuing. The battle of the digital classroom, built on principles and teacher drive is at the forefront of this. So too seeing digital as a personal learning part of self.

Up against this ongoing battles against closed systems that see technology as most cost effective when use is minimised, those who see power and comfort in a Taylorist school system, and those who see digital in the hands of students only in term of technocentric externalised controls.

In this one example stands out. A colleague asked what questions he should ask the education technology administrators at the new school where he was soon to move. This led me to respond with the following

  1. What do you want to achieve? Why?
  2. What are you willing to do to achieve this?
  3. What’s stopping you?
  4. …and afterward, what have you learned from this reflection?

I was perturbed, but not surprised, that their answer was that they wanted to achieve a 1:2 approach to computers in the classroom. Say no more.

How was your year and what and you looking forward to? For me it is always a combination of


We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”


“True knowledge exists in knowing that you know nothing.

and a bit of Riddler

“The human mind always has questions.

And in the end there is the teacher, working with 20-30 students of various dispositions, and a myriad of external, shifting influences. In a structure that both inhibits and provides opportunities others can hardly understanding. Yet the grammar of school  allows for renewal if we wish. We forget this too often.


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Why Gonski 2.0 will fail (Hint: it’s the Mobile Phone’s fault)

Posted by jturner56 on May 6, 2018

This past week I spent some time looking at the latest Government report on Education in Australia: Through Growth to Achievement: Report of the Review to Achieve Educational Excellence in Australian Schools. Known as Gonski 2.0, after the lead who also chaired a previous incarnation in 2011, it comprised 23 recommendations and 17 findings explained through 112 pages (+extras).

Drawing on the usual go-tos (Hattie, Dweck, Fullan, Masters,…), bureaucracies (Depts of Ed, OECD, AITS,…), and interests (Price-Waterhouse, Deloitte, ACER….), how one might see the contribution depends on who’s lens one preferred. Did it neglect key requests regarding secondary school education as a pathway to higher ed and careers, overstate the importance of non-academic learning while neglecting core academics, continue to fail to address the same-old problems, or propose new ways that mirrored what certain people advocated. It seems to me it wanted to be both progressive and conservative at the same time and ultimately will fall short for both.

This because

  • at heart it’s a political football rather that any blueprint. It is interesting to compare to the US A Nation at Risk (1983) which is still being sourced 35 years later. As Larry Cuban notes, from its earliest days it has been used, abused and undermined by political self-interests. Gonski 2.0 tries to ignore the politics of education
  • It calls for new measures of learning, but fails to commit itself to measuring itself
  • Other than as industrial units, it ignores teachers and the teaching dilemma in the western world (teacher standing has decreased over the past 35 years for a range of reasons highlighted as far back as by Saracen in 1991.
  • there is no philosophical or cultural/social coherency. Learning is defined in industrial terms through industrial thinking even as it calls for an end of industrial structures
  • it sees digital overwhelmingly in terms of controlling (ncluding information flow), monitoring and measuring.

This final point highlights the lack of understanding of how technology has changed the learning equation; extending minds, connecting learners and learning in new ways, and rendering obsolete those measurement tools that see learning only in behavioralist, Taylorist, neoliberal ways. Even as power remains resident in those interests that benefit from a status quo approach to school education.

The mobile phone is but the latest evolutionary step that extends the learning relationship beyond regurgitation as the defining measure of school learning. The mobile phone as an extension of self is affecting identity formation, social development and communication skills. Even on the business side the impact on education of evolving technology is seen as needing to move beyond the classroom, be more interactive and be a lifelong endeavor (not just in boxes). The mobile phone is seen as something that “connects us with ourselves.”, although this was first identified by Sherry Turkle in 1984 that “computers could be seen as an extension of ourselves.”

It should not surprise if industrial learning measurements continue to miss what is happening to learning in the digital age. Better to just blame the technology.

So we can but await the next inevitable ‘review’. In the meantime, while others try and control from afar, creating hurdles over futures, and provide yet another feast for bureaucratic gatekeepers; working educators will try, tinker and serve in the trenches.

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Further travels into Digital Life (DigCit) as part of School Education (Part 4)

Posted by jturner56 on April 29, 2018

This week’s travels included further discussions and further readings to try and come to grips with the complexities that are part and parcel of the perpetual conflicts that underpin Education as a social institution. Lifelong learning is not just an inert adage if one wants to be an educator.

The dominant calls arising were for more understanding (through research), simpler language and sharper foci.

This is difficult. As Dreambox (2018) highlight. 28% of US schools use no digital technologies and 69% of US teachers continue to rely on traditional whole classroom discussion. Evidence that digital considerations in schools is not yet a systemic issue (although that doesn’t prevent the edtech industry from advocating whole systems solutions dedicated to ‘solving’ through externalising control even more)

Even when mobile phone use within schools is looked at quandaries are clear to see. Russell (2018) reported on mobile use policies in two UK schools, and showed that in the school where mobile phones were banned students still chose to engage, while in both banned and non-banned schools mobile phones had some learning affordances, including assisting in time organisation.

At a deeper level one can look at impact on cognition, but needs to evaluate against what perspectives are being sought. Loh and Kanai (2015) looked at Internet effects on cognition, and after 20 years of mainstream choice highlighted ‘negative’ ‘retarding’ effects identified by Greenfield, Carr and the like; finding that we are moving to a shallow mode of learning beset by increased distractability. Carr (2018) for instance continues to call for countering the dangers of ‘technological momentum’. More recently, Wilmer et al (2017) on smartphones and cognition found scientific literature still in ‘its nascent stages’ with ‘quite limited’ empirical research. Conversely, the Onlife initiative (Southern Cross 2014) highlights that digital are not mere tools but constitute social forces that require us to re-conceptualise our conceptual toolbox (which would include social institutions such as education). There is something to be learned from previous technologies such as the printing press and their impact on information spread, scientific progress and power transfers.

All this doesn’t immediately help with the day-to-day decisions schools have to make on fast changing technologies, although it does help frame uncertainties for which so many seek to provide certainty.

So onto the second point, simplifying foci and language.

Schools are face with a two-sided dilemma (that all technologies bring with them (Bas 2013)). For mobile phones there are negatives that have been strongly identified, such as

  • notifications disrupting focus
  • personal mobile phones disrupting attention by their presence
  • software deliberately designed to attract and retain attention, to an extent that some can be at risk from over-engagement, if not behavioral addiction)

and positives, providing at-hand

  • access that can be leveraged to Engage students in their learning through personal choice
  • connection that can Enable new learning such as secondary research
  • extension that can Empower students to take their learning further beyond the classroom such as through global publishing

Engage, Enable, Empower. No different from the Project Tomorrow (2011) identification of potential learning affordances for all digital technologies. All possible within school’s pursuing 1:1 laptops as personal devices, although mobile phones would have some advantages in media collection and personal management. Mixed messaging, where adults try and dictate while demonstrating by action personal 24/7 use of mobile phones is not helping. Misleading messaging from those who only see/advocate K-12 school as a unitary system. For example, at what age can young students be expected to be able to handle digital tools and in what conditions?

So how will school’s respond? While we have seen increases in curriculum’s inclusion of Inquiry and Project-Based-Learning, learning processes that align better to digital device use than teacher transmission direction of closed knowledge, there is still a long way to go before system change can align to how digital affordances for learning can be effectively applied.

Look to the Grade 12 exist exams (in most systems still multi-hour hand written exams around closed questions with pre-known answers). Be mindul of both folksy romanticism and their counterparts – reactionary mindsets and gatekeepers – whose reputations lie in highlighting School/Education instabilities and powerplays over addressing the demands of complexity. In the meantime life remains an experiment in which good education seeks to forge pathways and opportunities and shed light on that  deemed worthwhile.


Melis Bas (2013) A reinterpretation of Hannah Arendt as Philosopher of Technology.

Nicholas Carr (2018) Re-engineering humanity.

Dreambox (2018) Education Technology Efficiency Handbook.

Loh and Kanai (2015) How has the Internet reshaped human cognition?

Project Tomorrow (2011)  The New 3 E’s of Education: Enabled, Engaged, Empowered: How Today’s Educators are Advancing a New Vision for Teaching and Learning

Dominique Russell (2018) Mobile phones in the classroom – what does the research say?

Southern Nights (2014) The Onlife initiative: Luciano Floridi and ICT Philosophy.

Dian Schaffhauser (2018) Even the mere presence of a smartphone makes you dumber. THE Journal.

Wilmer, Sherman, & Chein (2017) Exploring the links between mobile technology habits and cognitive functioning.



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onDigital Life & Education (Digital Citizenship) Part 3

Posted by jturner56 on April 22, 2018

As one looks further into what Digital Citizenship means to School Education it becomes more apparent that Mobile Phones present an increasing quandary for schools.

Mobile Phones present both an as Enabler

  • to information and business
  • to connect and undertake commerce
  • to media and to keeping up to the latest that is being shared
  • to anytime access

and a Distractor

  • as FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) drives always on notifications
  • as interests target through personalised advertising of all sorts
  • as refuge for those stressed by the ‘real world’ with health educations
  • exploiting psychological and physical gratification systems

We are all in a real-time experiment where we feel we cannot get away, yet at the same time appreciate what’s on offer. We are tethered (as Sherry Turkle would say)

For School Education this means working through

  • how to respond to cognitive effects of a world that seeks both Deep Focus and Hyper Focus. Ways must be found to go Deeper and go Higher in such environments.
  • managing overuse and at times addictions driven by human issues such as loneliness and wanting to connect

This requires commitments to informed decision making regarding

  • appropriate balances
  • educating across the community (including teachers and parents and school managers)
  • setting boundaries that provide a positive learning environment where students can feel safe.
  • curriculum and cultural developments built on multi-dimensional approaches to REP (Respect, Educate, Protect)

Change Considerations must address issues of

  • Structure
  • Spaces
  • Staffing
  • Support (including Leadership)

Schools can choose to play DEAD


or come ALIVE

All in
Learn and keep learning
Impact on worthwhile learning
Values driving actions
Energy commitment

How well is your response evolving?

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Digital Life (Digital Citizenship) Part 2

Posted by jturner56 on April 10, 2018

In a previous blog I discussed the importance of seeking understanding of how digital is impacting on cognition, school learning and culture as a first step towards developing a worthwhile school approach to developing good citizens in a Digital Age. In our school this has become known as The Digital Life project.

Since the initial sharing of understandings a second step of community discussion to widen understanding has been undertaken. Included of course were deeper reflections that have enhanced understanding of

  • students as global citizens, intertwined with their smartphone
  • fast generational shifts that can be as little as 2-3 years
  • the need to do whatever needed to be done with students, teachers, administrators and parents (rather than to)
  • the likelihood of significant cognitive change

On this last point, this is not new. Sherry Turkle in Computers and the Human Spirit (1984) and Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet (1995) identified the impact on social and psychological lives that digital was forging. “technology….catalyzes changes not only in what we do but in how we think” wrote Turkle. “Virtual worlds enables a postmodern way of knowing”.

More recently Katherine Hayles in Hyper and Deep Attention (AD/HD) (2007) provided insights into the generational divides in cognitive modes being brought about through digital. The conflicts between school’s deep focus on single objects for long periods was at odds with rapid switching of focus among different tasks, preference for multi-information streams, seeking high levels of stimulation and lowered tolerance for boredom. All part and parcel of smartphone use, and increasingly needed to navigate media rich information resources. As Hayles postulated (and this was before the smartphone explosion) a crisis was emerging that would necessitate a constructive re-evaluation for education of its objectives and methods.

The question now is whether the smartphone is a game changer? Up to now School and its gatekeepers have been able to segment and control technology use within their boundaries (although such changes as the Internet and home computing power have challenged such controls school has been able to stand firm). Now we have a ubiquitous digital technology in the hands of even the very young. How will School respond? Will they continue to play dead (Deny Exclude Admonish Decry). Will a ‘curriculum solution’ suffice that enable boxes to be ticked? Is it possible to evolve? Do we need an educational Galileo to find the way?

On a practical level, our next step is to see whether some guiding principles can be agreed upon leading to a worthwhile action plan.

As always with digital we live in interesting times.
as we always have….

“Like a tunnel that you follow
To a tunnel of its own
Down a hollow to a cavern
Where the sun has never shone
Like a door that keeps revolving
In a half-forgotten dream
Or the ripples from a pebble
Someone tosses in a stream
Like a clock whose hands are sweeping
Past the minutes of its face
And the world is like an apple
Whirling silently in space
Like the circles that you find
In the windmills of your mind”

Windmills of your Mind (1968)


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Digital Fire Update

Posted by jturner56 on March 28, 2018

Like the analogy of Digital akin to Fire (courtesy of Marc Prensky’s Brain Gain: Technology and the Quest for Digital Wisdom (2012)). Have always thought Prensky tended to the overly romantic view, but after seeing Lee Hadlington’s references to Prensky as informing cognitive deliberations, and Prensky’s acknowledgement that one needs a bit of objectivity and understanding of the complexities that go with digital in education (else the risk of overheating – pardon the pun), am focusing more on the elements of fire that Man has had to contend with and which now impact on digital considerations. Elements that include power, risk and underpinning of invention. More to come on this as I look into my next big action project on the Digital Life (post-Digital Citizenship) that is part and parcel of today’s school environments.

In the meantime, an update on what I have been working on and thinking about is available at Project Innovate: One school’s approach to progressing mobile, STEM and transdisciplinary learning through digital tracks developments over the last three year. It’s abstract helps provide an overview

This paper updates one school’s journey with mobile and digital learning as shared at the 2015 International Mobile Learning Festival (IMLF) (Turner 2015). Included is reporting on the development of a Coding and Robotics curriculum. Case studies from 2015 are updated, and in doing so demonstrate the complexities of digital-related curriculum change in schools. The importance of vision, drivers and connectors – including teachers, as well as appropriate pedagogy, leadership and support dedicated to agreed upon valued outcomes, is examined. The paradox of digital as both engager and distractor is considered. The value of balancing project opportunities with appropriate teacher instruction, management, support and guidance within a school-wide connected approach is stressed. Advice for schools seeking to improve in the way they approach mobile digital technologies is included.

As always, look forward to any feedback or value adding discussions.

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Why is digital part of School education?

Posted by jturner56 on March 21, 2018

To some it might seem a trivial or an obviously already answered question. What I found interesting was that, in following up with some students as part of my look into what Digital Citizenship means within a school, this question was put forth by some students as something requiring clarification. Set me wondering on several levels.

Putting aside those who have commercial or gatekeeper interests in whatever answer they put forward, and those who have a personal belief driving a narrow answer, this left me with trying to look from where the students sit.

In part their question seems driven by a set of confusing messages. School as a system is still principally driven by a paper technology focus on standardisable exams held together by certification that at best pays lip service to passion, innovative thinking and non-examinable skills (as far as School is concerned) such as collaboration, creativity, citizenship and character. Yet School also ‘wants’ digital to be part of looking up-to-date as part of the Digital Age. The problem is exacerbated by the teacher-controls that enable a range of values to be on show within any school. Some students learn to play this game very well. But to what end? Digital appears to be something to be put up with at school with maybe some opportunities for experiential learning iof they’re fortunate. Many students operate within RL + VL | SL (Real Life + Virtual Life intertwined but divorced from School).

This is nothing new and has been known since the early 80s or even before. What is new is that students are now learning through mobile devices in ways not in sync with how School values learning. It reminds me of an evolution from what transpired at the end of the last millennium. Up to then Schools dominated digital technology provision. This was evident in the Grade 12 IT Subject being in the top 4 in student choice in my home state. Then home computing power surpassed school capability, and as students took on more opportunity at home the numbers just dropped away (in part also because of school intransigence, a lack of teaching specialists and a tightening of school standardisation of subject hierarchy around traditional subjects – in short a failure for schools to evolve as needed).

What is new in these new ubiquitous mobile devices is that students have somewhere else to go to learn. Currently our preference is to zero in on ‘addiction’ and ‘smartphones’ as the issue, which may be symptomatic of wider change issues. If we are to provide all students with learning opportunities commensurate with the way they learn, then a new paradigm of learning is needed. Otherwise, apart from those who directly benefit from School as traditionally structured, more and more students are likely to disconnect, disengage and seek digital refuge from the travails of School as it fails to meet not only student learning needs, but decreases in its certification value.

We still have a lot of work to do in this area before this question can find a truthful and generally worthwhile response. The question is, how much time do we have before this overwhelms?

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