Light Offerings

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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Welcome to the new school year

Posted by jturner56 on August 8, 2016

As a new school year starts in the northern hemisphere, what objectives will you be working towards. Will it be outcomes externally dictated or pursuing an inner sense of something better?

If my case I will be continuing to look for opportunities to contribute to direction setting and implementation of innovative teaching and learning structures to support school and education leadership and delivery at all levels. Opportunities which includes an emphasis on what students can make with their learning (opportunities, pathways, connections, applications). This year I am particularly interested in the relationships between critical thinking, innovation and where digital can fit into such a focus. I look forward to sharing some ideas and engaging in some constructive interactions.

All the best for all educators wherever you may be.

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On Coding

Posted by jturner56 on June 29, 2016

Computer programming in Education and I go way back, to before the term coding was introduced to cover HTML and then CSS. So it was of particular interest when I had the opportunity to mix with Apple engineers, app developers and fellow educators involved in school-based computer programming. This was around Apple’s release of it’s Swift Playgrounds app, intended to support students learning coding in schools. (Interestingly at a time that Apple was distancing itself from Adobe Flash even more. I spent over a decade teaching programming through Flash, and all I say here is just as applicable to that time).

The first question that needs to be asked and answered – is learning to code valued within school education, and if so, to what degree? Although there is a strong STEM focus across many education systems, too often I find this question dismissed or at best superficially considered from narrow political or self-serving industry perspectives. The Apple focus ‘Everyone can Code’ is laudable, but is it realistic?

In discussions, I was struck by two comments made by an Apple executive and an Apple engineer. Firstly, “until I code I don’t understand it”. And secondly, “once hooked I basically taught myself”. Both reflect what I have observed over many years. That coding can provide a powerful meta-cognition purpose. And that most software engineers are basically self-taught, and posses an intrinsic self-motivation to further their understanding. This was reinforced by countless software programmers I spoke with. Coders became coders because they see the time on task as personally, professionally and meta-cognitively compelling. They code to create, understand and challenge themselves, like writers or musicians. They can work through the frustrations and challenges towards personally satisfying goals (both short and longer term). There are flattened ecosystems of cooperation. From what I’ve seen, School does so many things to deny  value to such attributes.

So when we see advocacy for “everyone learning to code” what are the realities? In school, as judged by Grade 12 Computer Science numbers, we seem to be stuck with around 5% of students with the interest and motivation to become coders within the school structures and priorities. When efforts are made to increase this, issues of teacher availability emerge (like when increases in second language learning is touted). What increases can we expect in a means-to-an-end school system that seeks to standardise over personalise? One that remains beholden to teachers as gatekeepers, who too often lack the attributes for teaching higher-level computer programming. That is confused by advocates like Bill Gates, who on the one hand was self-taught (in league with fellow coders such as Paul Allen), yet now contends: “Technology is just a tool. In terms of getting the kids working together and motivating them, the teacher is most important”(Brown 2013). Will a software app make much difference?

At the school level, we recently surveyed a grade of 120 12 year olds following an ‘Introduction to Programming’ extended class (150min) using the MIT/Android Scratch-based, cloud coding environment, AppInventor (as an end-of-year add-on). The students reinforced what I found in my PHD 25 years ago, that around 25% thought programming engaging and for them, that about 25% had already dismissed any interest, and that the middle depended on the challenge and where they saw themselves in the mix within the demands of School. They  are unsure as to what is required to be a coder and whether they are willing to get further involved. But they have strong personal preferences. If the intended student target area of the Swift Playgrounds App is 12 – 16 year, olds has the boat already been missed? Conversely, at the top-end I see a small cohort of 12 year olds and professional coders working together on understanding and applying Objective C data structuring. What is needed is a clearer school-valued pathway to bridge introduction to personal preference and potential. Many students will judge this from within what they see as what school provides , as well as both overtly and tacitly values.

Perhaps a better approach would be to initially value that “Everyone should have the opportunity to Learn to Code”, reinforced by structural pathways and incubators for those who wish to take this further. Perhaps 10% to 25% would be more achievable as a short term goal. This has worked for music, with various levels of involvement possible.

Getting back to the software under review, Apple’s Swift Playgrounds app. The Playgrounds part of the Swift programming language provides a potentially engaging test area through interpreter feedback and professional power to make meaningful apps (using Apples Xcode environment and Swift programming language).  The Playgrounds app focuses on ‘learning the concepts’ in a traditional structure, while enlisting gamification techniques. It is designed for the iPad and can take advantage of the iPads sensors. Unfortunately our students start in Grade 4 with their own MacBook laptop as we have seen it’s potential as a making device and productivity tool preferable over the iPad’s power for as mobile inquiry and media manipulation.

The Swift curriculum support materials, although interactive, were generally standardised and aimed at the teacher in the first instance (even though there were attempts to ‘personalise’ what students could do). Project-Based yes, but delivering conceptual understanding over the power to make. An okay start, but needing abridge to enact the power of making.

For any initiative such as this to succeed, it requires school system value and teacher acceptance, both of which are uphill tasks in overloaded systems. The closed nature of Apple’s ecosystem could work either for consistency, or as a limited choice. Individual students may take up the opportunity, even just as an alternative experience of digital interaction over school alternatives. Time will tell.

What really impressed me, though, was the capacity that was used to create the interactive materials. Here was an evolutionary step forward from iBook Author where new worlds can be created through coding. The potential for book creation (and app creation for that matter) through Swift Playgrounds is apparent.

So what does this all mean? For a Coding curriculum to have any chance, particularly in a school where at best it occupies ‘optional’ or ‘ticked-box’ status’, it needs an introduction that engages across differing levels of student interest, provides pathways concomitant with student potential, can be personalised, and has end value in terms of what students can produce (and let’s hopefully see this as not about grades). It needs to incorporate Making as a process of conceptual development, not fall back on delayed gratification through accumulation of ‘concepts’.

I have a strong affinity with the educational potential of learning computer programming. It has a strong digital literacy relationship necessary for learning and working in increasingly digital powered work environments. To this end I have always hoped that education or allied interests would share such a view. Coding is not the solution for a better future, but putting ideas into common practice is. And in a Digital Age where employment and opportunity are increasingly tied to digital creation and innovation, coding remains a strong opportunity for education to be a pro-active.

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How can we use our tech to enhance subject specific thinking skills?

Posted by jturner56 on May 29, 2016

How can we use our tech to enhance subject specific thinking skills?
A question recently posed to me by a respected Principal.

Apart from the ongoing question as to why is this still a general question, and what is meant by ‘enhance’ and ‘subject skills’ it helped focus on what is a suitable response answer. The following is what I provided:

  • Primarily and epistemological question. So many subjective terms. If talking ‘improved grades’ questionable. I see it more about the relationship between
    •  meaning (relationship between personal and formal systemic)
    • knowledge (relationship between closed and open)
    • expression (domains of valued expression)
    • empowerment (how well do we develop student as independent, connected learners?)
    • social learning (strength of connections)
    • communities of practice (strength of leadership)
  •  But if talking digital value, it has been recognised that the computer as a tool to think with can add value (‘enhance’?)
    • through making meaning
      for example, through students creating multimedia products to demonstrate understanding (such as games), but also through media constructions such as presentations and movies
    • or for modeling learning
      from Spreadsheet what ifs to programmed models
    • personalising pathways
      such as using Khan academy or Mathletics in conjunction with f2f
    • interacting with wider feedback audiences
      such as blogging (provided their is constructive feedback)
    • enhancing skills now valued more so (such as “21C Skills”)
      which includes Technicak Literacy through 1:1 and Collaboration through GoogleDocs
    • digital information handling
      one of the Digital Literacy pillars and a pillar of IB PYP/MYP Inquiry
    • for visualising thinking and learning
      once again blogging, but also mind-mapping, redrafting…..
    • building meta-cognitive understanding (thinking about thinking)
      through the personal cognitive feedback loops created by human-digital interactions

Would recommend work by David Jonassen as best to better understand. His (2006) Modelling with technology: mindtools for conceptual change  and Meaningful Learning With Technology, by D. Jonassen, J. Howland, R.M. Marra, D. Crismond, 2008 support this.

Skills separated from context is so last century. Also danger of container checklists. Not saying not important, but as people are abrogating more of their memory to digital (do we need times tables when we can use a calculator in our phone. What about long division?) I say yes to the former, debatable for the latter.

Schools, though, need to be stronger and clearer in their advocacy.

Digital can help build bridges. But if allowed to be treated as optional add on, value will continue to be debated. It then becomes a leadership issue.

Critical then is what is provided within a school’s vision and planning.

What sayeth ye?

Postscript: I find it of interest in this week’s reading that

  1. teaching programming continues to be approached in wrong ways (Idit Harel goes was back in this)
  2. students continue to be frustrated by teacher ineffectiveness with using digital as part of school education
  3. the ongoing debate about what to do as digital changes memory approaches
  4. that teachers continue to have to try and come to grips with the changing nature of digital on learning. In this case digital v page when it comes to reading and writing.

It’s a complex challenge, but one needed to be met if we are to continue to have hope in schools helping our young prepare for a better world.


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Digital Age Necessities for School

Posted by jturner56 on May 23, 2016

Seems at times we are being swept along by competing interests and overloaded hyper-connectivity. At one end of the spectrum of digital’s relationship with learning we have calls for digital-enabling revolution. At the other gatekeepers of a system forged and entrenched pre-digital. The realities are much more complicated and multi-dimensional than this.

diged spectrumMeanwhile Schools and Teachers are left to contend, with many problems brushed over by marketing, self-interest promotion, or winds of political expediency.

What, then, are the necessities for any school as an institution in such times?
From my perspective this should include:

  1. Recognition of each school as a Social Community that is best built through Respect by example.
  2. Schools, representing the Present, are at the Intersection of Past and Future. Curriculum needs to appreciate this. Digital considerations require inclusion of Inquiry, Projects and a Digital Literacy Curriculum.
  3. Schools are a Teacher-Centric system, yet Student Focused system. Connected Teachers matter as the builders of the learning environment. Teachers inclusion and development matters.
  4. Digital has a personal aspect and can be a distraction, the degree to which depend. School, nevertheless, need to be in the business of Focus Building for Adaptable times.
  5. This needs to include coming to grips with Personal and Social Learning opportunities and challenges that Digital provides.
  6. Leadership is a multi-dimensional consideration. By example. By inclusion of teachers and students. By active partnerships across the school community, (including parents). Committed to building a Shared Vision allied to a workable Strategic Plan.
  7. Student well-being matters – valuing rest, time-out, choice, feeling supported and empowered to became independent, connected learners. To find a good balance.
  8. Teacher well-being also matters (See (1) above)
  9. Education should be empowering, not a matter of trying to satisfy short-term ends for teachers or students.
  10. Learning in schools therefore needs to evolve to include and value the question:  what can you make with that learning? (beyond grades or test scores) Both in digital and non-digital realms.

We have a way to go. But is has always been thus. Viva Education.

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Value Making or Miss the Opportunity

Posted by jturner56 on May 16, 2016

This week I have had the opportunity to work with some teachers in the Middle East on how Digital Literacy can be approached to help progress teacher and student learning. After last working with a  similar group three years ago, what I first noticed was how much teacher digital literacy has advanced over that time (something I have also noticed in other places).

What also was apparent were the limitations they had to work with in schools when it comes to digital. Limitations in school vision, objectives, curriculum, assessment….

When I see contentions that digital is failing education, be it from digital visionaries or ‘leading’ academics, I am reminded of how far we still have to go. Recent Jisc research points to the digital literacy gap we as educations should be bridging.

Until we are willing to both implement a valued Digital Literacy curriculum, and value what students can Make with their Learning, we are limited by the grade-focused value systems, and will continue to get only so far, despite the good efforts and good intentions of many.

Working with teachers shows the system still has a way to go.

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Is digital innovation in schools possible?

Posted by jturner56 on May 2, 2016

We live in disjointed times. Exemplified by Sydney Grammar’s ‘ban on laptops’ up against the Australian Prime Minister’s call for innovation, allied to calls for innovation requiring a digital mindset. Innovation that requires digital mindsets, willingness for reinvention, investment in new ideas, understanding of process, product, technologies, organisational structures and behaviours, as well as corporate culture changes, leadership change, and willingness to compete. Where should education sit within this?

A journey through how laptops have been viewed in schools may provide some illumination. Bob Johnstone’s (2003) Never Mind the Laptops: Kids, Computers and the Transformation of Learning documents the largest ever digital innovation to hit schools. It charts the historical hopes (realised, ignored and subverted) of what could, should and has happened when students were given access to computers. At its heart is a belief that digital can (and should) provide each student with more control of their learning (which I believe and can testify to).

Starting with research-based investigations of what is possible, through to the introduction of 1:1 laptops in Melbourne, Australia and then in parts of the USA,   Johnstone document the hopes, aspirations, and unrealised scalable potential of digital personal learning devices within education. While the book finishes in 2002, and predates  the impact of social media and personal digital devices such as smartphones (as well as only touching on the mainstream impact of the web), it links early days with contemporary positions of the learning power that digital can provide. It documents the personalities and places where 1:1 laptops and its antecedents found favor, as well a reasons why they fell short. At the centre was the first 1:1 laptop school, MLC, led by its head David Loader in Melbourne, Australia, starting in 1989.

Interesting to revisit characters and events when I was there or thereabouts for some of the moments described in Johnstone’s book.

While the belief in computer as solution justifiably falls short, the possibilities in education when teachers generate scaffolded challenges and mediate open learning environments continues to be valued in open-minded educational environments, even if still running up against school standardisation philosophies exemplified by external testing and segmented curriculum.

To do true justice to what digital can provide education, curriculum development needs to evolve to build curriculum that embrace

– digital literacies
– project-based learning that value ‘what can you make with that learning’, and- enterprise opportunities to enable educational bridges to be built to new value systems

I remain convinced this can be done parallel and in conjunction with traditional cognitive training structures. But it requires leadership in Education which unfortunately too often falls short of what society needs. And social leaders that can take a lead in this as well. This is where true innovation is needed. Loader and MLC in the late 1980s demonstrated what could be started, but as Johnstone documented, this is but an entree to what is needed. He concluded

So what about the students caught in the gap between the receding and oncoming ideas? Do these kids have the right to be educated “in the medium of their own times?”Of course they do. The question is not whether, but when.

This remain apposite.



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Should personal digital learning devices be banned in schools?

Posted by jturner56 on April 5, 2016

Yes according to some schools

Sydney Grammar bans laptops 3-16

Some other educators agreed, citing OECD insights and leadership comments. (Even though such comments had been qualified previously about the need for new approaches if value from digital was to be educationally successful. And clarified )

Perhaps banning (or maybe burning at the stake) is understandable if beholden to 20thC Elitism  and/or Rear-View mirror views of what education should be about; particularly if this has served self-interests, be it personal or systemic.

Change of any kind is disruptive by nature, none more so than with fast changing digital technologies which drive an Age of Ideas and Opportunity. No wonder problems ensue when this runs up against bureaucratic overlords that see curriculum straitjackets as the best we can expect (even under ‘progressive’ banners).

If we can see beyond this, though, we might see in digital technologies the potential to empower, personalize (in a social context) and provide opportunities to forge stronger authentic links and pathways.

This is not an efficiency issue where time will be saved, lesser effort will be required, or money will be saved. Education never been about the easiest replicatable route available.

It is not even an effectiveness issue measurable against segmentation and industrial averages. One dimensional K-12 solutions,  particularly if measured by externalised standardised testing, are simplistic and self-defeating. It’s a Socratic-type challenge while current education systems remain beholden to hand-written testing and boxed thinking structures.

It is primarily an empowerment issue as to whether students (and teacher with them) can be empowered:

• meta cognitively through using the visible cognitive feedback loops that digital interactions can provide
• through enabling students to create their own visible, connected learning pathways
• through wider connections to information and people
• through the power of personal publishing direct to authentic and interested audiences

This requires a curriculum approach that starts with a dialogue on what learning is valued and in what ways?

If Digital is then valued as part of a whole school approach, then a curriculum is required that empowers appropriate for the cognitive level of each student through  developing

• Digital Literacies and Citizenship
• Information Literacies appropriate for the age we live in
• Open-Ended Projects (Task and Challenges), including Publishing opportunities
• Opportunities for entrepreneurialism and enterprise

Such an approach would reflect a commitment to move from systems of entitlement (not just for some) to empowerment for all as learners. It needs to be more than just segmented allowances or optional add-ons.

This is not a new insight. Seymour Papert in 1970, through his research and working with children, saw in the computer  “something the child himself will learn to manipulate, to extend, to apply to projects, thereby gaining a greater and more articulate mastery of the world, a sense of the power of applied knowledge and a self-confidently realistic image of himself as an intellectual agent.”


If this is all too much, then digital technologies as personal learning devices might be the best we can expect as non-digital systemic education withers from the bottom up.

But the Battle of Ideas around what digital can provide for education will continue in forward looking schools.


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Personal Thinking Revisited

Posted by jturner56 on March 8, 2016

In a previous post I revisited Seymour Papert’s 1993 The Children’s Machine: rethinking school in the age of the computer and considered Chapter One: Yearners and Schoolers. My objective is to try and see how far we have traveled and where we find ourselves two decades after Papert’s thinking laid the groundwork for 1:1 digital devices in schools and personal digital learning.

In this post I proceed to Chapter Two: Personal Thinking. A shorter chapter, it charts Papert’s learning journey and influences on how he arrived at the thoughts behind the computer as a powerful children’s learning machine. When we consider ourselves as educators, how often do we consider our own personal thinking journey and how impacts on what we do and might be willing to do looking forward?

Papert uses his reflection as evidence of the distances he uncovered when at school between his yearning for learning and what school, and university put before him.

How he early on found the will to take charge of his own learning (through a newspaper publishing initiative).

The importance of relevance, not through ‘pretending’, but through interaction with the world beyond. He used learning french during his times in France to show how “studying one’s learning processes” can be a powerful method to enhance learning.

The value of learning experiences when the outcome is not known beforehand.

The value of the “physicalness of powerful learning” as exemplified by learning how to make croissants.

The methodological value of reflection and personal intuitive knowledge.

The value of interacting with leading thinkers, in his case Marvin Minsky and Warren McCulloch, two AI pioneers.

This all he compares School’s approach to computers as “attaching a jet engine to an old-fashioned wagon” to see whether it can “help the horses.” Such approaches he sees in school education where “tomorrow will always be the prisoner of yesterday.

Central to his ideas is the time he spent  with Piaget, whose statement “that to understand is to invent” Papert saw not only applying to children, but to all of us as learners.

Twenty years on how apposite to the fast changing era that presents opportunities to learn that underpin lifelong learning demands in the digital age.

A bit of Personal Thinking might help us better understand what is and what could be be and how our past if allowed to dominate can hold one back.

This, then, becomes the second pillar, after Yearning; that Digital Age Education requires Personal Thinking commitment if it is to invent a better future. In Chapter 3 we will explore future where School fits in to Papert’s thinking.




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What can you DO with that Learning?

Posted by jturner56 on March 6, 2016

Do we too often confuse educating (to….systemised) with learning (by….for life)?

When I googled the question, ‘What can you do with that learning?’ – what I received was how University degrees matter.

When I googled a similar question, ‘What can you make with that learning?’ – what I received were instruction for teachers.

Is a key point being missed, caught between Dewey’s ‘Learning by Doing‘ and Thorndyke’s law of effect of rewarded behaviours that have come to dominate school as an institution? Scripts that deny designs that can go deeper. That deny true identity formation.

I see this every time I see students struggle to find meaning and relevancy, from mathematics no longer needed, to project-based learning undervalued. From teacher-centric content to external testing as primary value.

In times and places where delayed gratification, backed up by early alternative pathways, was acceptable in education, this could be dismissed as a discussion point. But in modern times of increased personal access and interaction through digital technologies for personal learning, up against increasing inequalities at all levels of schooling, is this sustainable, much less tolerable?

Next time you want to identify what educating has truly achieved, after identifying the intended outcome, ask yourself, and your students, ‘what can you do with that learning?’

What should be our response if the reply is shrugs, or answers like ‘to help past tests’, or ‘because I needed better grades’ or ‘to keep my parents/teachers off my back’?

If the student’s insights is not empowering, then surely the next question is, why?

If the answer helps us better understand the differences between ‘solution through measurements of educating externally defined, designed and applied’ and ‘measuring effects of learning on the individual and community’, there is hope.

PS…interestingly, Googling ‘measuring effects of learning’ also returned a misleading foray into ‘effects on learning’ or ‘reporting on learning capabilities’.


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