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Archive for August, 2013

Digital Age Education requires constant re-evaluations (Why 1:1, Why Apple?)

Posted by jturner56 on August 25, 2013

This week sees us preparing for the annual start-up of the 1:1 laptop program for all grade 5 students. As the first school in the area that went 1:1, with students buying and managing their own laptop from Grade 5 onwards, there is much to be proud of right through to Grade 12.

Nevertheless, any digital age organisation should be continually evaluating it’s digital approach as the winds of technological change blow harder than ever before. As part of this, conversations with parents identified two main questions which will be addressed at the roll-out, and which I share today.

The first is: why 1:1?

1:1, where each student has their own digital learning tool / learning environment, has going on 25 years as an in-school approach, and has been constantly under the microscope for a variety of reasons. Happy to go in-depth on the history some other time, but from the perspective of the Grade 5 introduction the following underpins our belief in 1:1:

  • learning in the digital age requires an at-hand digital learning environment,
  • such an environment supports personalised learning pathways and interests,
  • information access has been re-defined by the web,
  • so too tool digital resources from Twitter to VLEs,
  • schools have a role to play in ensuring digital skills and digital citizenship are provided for all students to be members of a valued community,
  • cognitive development in the digital age is intrinsically linked to an individual’s digital experiences. One only has to compare new students with limited or negligible computer backgrounds to those with strong experiences in 1:1 programs.
  • collaborative learning spaces, underpinned by personal digital learning devices, provide strong learning opportunities,
  • finally, access to wider audiences provides communication, feedback and connections hitherto unavailable.

In short, I could not see an educational approach without a personalised digital device as appropriate for the digital age (but concur with this within a balanced, socially progressive culture).

A question arising from this in our case is: why Apple?

The school uses Apple laptops for a variety of reasons. These include

  • learning productivity due to efficiencies in minimising downtime,
  • media reliability and power,
  • upkeep costs,
  • availability of creative tools through iWorks and iLife
  • consistency of tools
  • network ROI, and
  • inter-operability with Cloud, Mobile etc.

I could, of course, also argue from viewpoint of alternative technologies (and indeed have taught with Windows and even Linux). Similar contentions re iPads could also be made. This later consideration being of emerging importance, although the most recent review reinforced the laptop value from Grade 5 upwards. A school new to such considerations may find otherwise.

The point being that community expertise is a strong base for continuing use, and our school has such a strong base, but dangerous if used as the sole basis.

Technology is not the issue, even if we are happy to continue with our relationship with Apple. This, though, is under the same reviews as those that have seen our email system recently replaced by Gmail, a differentiated-stationed approach to iPads in early years, and an emerging evolutionary approach to BYO.

So any worthwhile school will always be re-evaluating against its core values and objectives; which should include considering the learning potential of new technologies across three related levels: centralised, curriculum and choice. More on this next week.

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How creative should a school be?

Posted by jturner56 on August 18, 2013

Screen Shot 2013-08-18 at 7.51.00 AMThis response to my blog post last week got me thinking about what schools should be doing to foster digital creativity.

As noted previously, I believe it’s not so much about the position as the effect. Call it what you will, position the person where you like, the likelihood of progress will very much depend on the structures around them, their capacity to build bridges, and the culture’s willingness to build constructively. See The Network Secrets of Great Change Agents (Julia Battilana and Tiziana Casciaro, HBR) for more on this.

The danger in industrially structured schools is that individually inspired learning progress will rarely move beyond individual choice (even in cases where such individuals are ‘promoted’ to lead the change). Not helped if external priorities push people in the opposite direction. This is why understanding change and culture should be two prerequisites for any educational leadership position.

But I digress. Creativity is the focus. So let’s explore what we can understand to be creativity.

To some it might be individual choice, the “eye of the beholder”. I remember a decade or so ago I was involved in formally assessing the creativeness within standardised evaluation of technical products created by students across a state. I still remember the debates within the group that left us more in support of the potential of human creativeness than feeling we had any handle on being able to provide standardisable assessments.

A walk through the net finds an array of definitions, some of which I think shed light for fostering creativity in schools.

“imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of artistic work”

“producing something new and valued”

“tendency to generate or recognise ideas, alternatives or possibilities of value”

“turning new and imaginative ideas into reality”

“boosting creativity by learning interesting new things” (ASCD)

“creating original works as a mean of personal or group expression”

My favorite is the philosopher Daniel Dennett’s use of Doug Hofstadter’s term jootsing (see Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking) which means “jumping out of the system”. It implies that powerful creativity comes from understanding the system before extending it. Countless Nobel Prize winners bear testimony to this.

At the school level then we can foster creativity by ensuring that understanding is only a precursor to opportunities (be it digital or not) to extend through adding value to the individual, the community, and beyond. This can be academic or social. A good example of the former can be found in Art Folios, which are used as a formal part of university entrance. Other subjects can follow suit through digital folios which can be used to build cognition, access wider audiences, share ideas, and build a creativity profile (Helen Barrett has a lot more to say on this than I have time today).

Time dedicated to creating, managing, and for purposeful interactions is time well spent. At my school we are building iFolios across the middle school and beyond, and building  time for students to develop and apply new digital skills which can be used to push their learning and creativity envelop. Not rocket science, it’s just about community commitments.

So in summing up, creativity springs from the values, structures, opportunities, leadership and bridges that underpin the community. Be it a classroom, a school, a city (see Richard Florida’s work on this) or whatever. Creativity might be often in the eye of the beholder, but it takes a community to be creative.

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Why schools need a Director of Digital

Posted by jturner56 on August 11, 2013

First week back for a new school year has provided food for thought about how schools can move to the next level in their integration of digital technologies. While this post specifically focuses on a particular position, it does so within a commitment to an overall Commitment the other three Cs: Connection, Coordination, and Community.

In business Chief Information Officers (CIO) have taken on increasing importance as organisations evolve to meet Digital Age challenges and opportunities. Schools need comparable positions that are relevant to educational needs. At this point in time White’s (bit.ly/15myhZe) insights into the shortcomings of digital education research and the OECD/CERI insights into cognitive and brain science (http://bit.ly/1cUSz3q) are timely reminders that we still have a long way to go to effective join cognition, environment and digital for valued educational outcomes.

What I mean by Director of Digital (DoD) is someone who is setting and overseeing the digital direction of a school in support of

  • it’s core business value, which in education is quality learning
  • driving meaningful change
  • bringing together the diverse elements that make up the school community
  • evaluating new technologies for their learning value

For going on thirty years I have been working on translating digital change into educational opportunity within school communities, and this has taught me much about disjunctions and segmentation that emanate from the industrial antecedents that unpin much of formal schooling. Too often schools, through practices and politics, still consider digital as an add on. IT departments working from 1980s constructs, and demarcations between IT as a business priority against curriculum as a separated consideration, create drag.

DoD as a position doesn’t in itself address such shortcomings. Most schools have some sort of digital direction responsibility. Some impressive, many not so much. What a good DoD can achieve is embedded value through progressive, connected approaches that goes to the core of the school’s progress. To be effective a DoD needs to

  • channel whole school focus
  • be a connector
  • possess strong curriculum skills
  • understand school culture
  • be able to look and translate beyond the school envelop as outside forces increasingly influence school
  • possess technical and data understanding

At the centre of getting the most from this is considering digital as integral to school, not an optional / add-on. A DoD position therefore must be part of the core decision making and leadership processes. This might be a specified position, or part of another leadership position.

Within this is a need for IT professional expertise. Historically this has been a specialisation focused on digital as technology over user considerations. Times have changed. Schools are increasingly finding it difficult to find the finance for high-level expertise, collaborative expertise has become increasingly more valued, and the increase in personal, mobile ownership means shared expertise is a power to draw on. Behind closed doors approaches have become increasingly deficient.

Yes, network management expertise is essential for reliability, security and administration, but with BYO and telecommunication developments, network management will need to continue to evolve. So too support and connected learning structures.

In summary then, schools need a Director of Digital to bring together digital elements to best support how the school as a community wishes to address the three key educational business questions

  1. what learning is value?
  2. How will it be valued?
  3. To what ends will such learning be supported?

Interested? I look forward to hearing from you.

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A new school year is a time for building, renewal and recommitting

Posted by jturner56 on August 4, 2013

As the long break draws to a close it is time to take stock and get ready for what will be my 30th year as a school educator. Each year I look to build ideas, structures and connections that can provide learning of value. I have been fortunate to be allowed to take on digital challenges since my earliest years in the mid-1980s. The Digital Age is a time of great challenge and opportunity; new learning and evolution while committed to social and cultural respectability. It is up to us educators to do justice to this.

This year’s specific challenges for me will include

  • promoting the value of Philosophy as an integral part of Digital Age education. Inspired by Daniel Dennett’s Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking, which drew on Computer Thinking and Evolutionary Thinking and tools for critical reflection, I support the importance of developing questioning abilities, purposeful analysis of information in overloaded environments, connected community-based learning, and purposeful creativity based on system and conceptual understanding as cornerstones of quality Digital Age education.
  • As part of this self-reflection and learning goals communicated and connected are important components that can be supported by well-organised and directed personal learning digital folios.
  • Finally, looking to build on digital learning infusion to clarify digital learning / literacy value and values. In schools this can be seen in attitudes and approaches to assessment, reporting, support and leadership. Core questions to be explored include: what learning is value, how is such learning valued, and for what ends? But there are wider considerations as well, such as lifelong learning in times of unprecedented rates of change, new literacies that need to embrace adaptability and personalization, digital creativity and digital citizenship.

In your school is digital integral or an adjunct?

Are we with digital where medieval times were with the printing press in the late 16th century when it comes to issues of control and contested truth?

I will have more to say on these an the year unfurls and practical examples emerge.

It’s great to be an educator.

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