10 questions that all educators should answer

Today I was asked to present to 2 cohorts of tertiary education students at Australian Catholic University in Melbourne. ACU has become an even more familiar place for me after graduating in 2007. Since then I have gone on to complete my Masters in ICT through ACU, and our school is also involved in a pilot program for taking on pre-service teachers enrolled at ACU.

Every year that I am invited back to ACU to speak about educational technology, and I find that I enjoy the experience more and more. Pre-service teachers are fresh, and full of new ideas. They are motivated, and starting to make many connections to practise and theory. They are also the incoming generation of teachers, and I think it’s vital that they have their heads around educational technology before they step in the classroom.

I am often asked by lecturers and pre-service teachers about the one piece of advice that I could give that could make a difference. To that, I encourage them to develop their ability to self-reflect and take action upon those reflections. In my short teaching career I have had many positive influences on my development, but in particular when it comes to ICT, it has been my willingness to try new things, reflect, take action, and improve my practise and understanding.

At the presentation today, I left the pre-service teachers with 10 questions to ask themselves. In thinking about these, there is no doubt that these also apply to any other practising educator.


1) Are you serious about educational technology? – By serious I mean that you recognise that technology plays a large part in students life now, and even more so in the future; and that you  by ignoring effective educational technology would mean doing a disservice to students.


2) Are you willing to incorporate technology in the classroom so it accurately reflects the reality of students’ lives? – Consider how much time students spend consuming TV, video games and using the computing devices. How relevant can a teacher be if they are not willing to use technology in their everyday teaching and learning?


3) How much of your planning will be geared towards developing learning and technology with the student in mind? – It’s easy to plan a lesson, stand up the front, demand that your students listen, and expect them to follow through independently. Using technology in this didactic way doesn’t really improve anything!


4) How will you foster your students as collaborators, in a physical and digital sense? Whether students work on a Google Document online, or plan a short film on paper, they will need the opportunities to collaborate, co-operate, and effectively communicate with one another. Not to mention receive feedback on how they are going with it!


5) How will you utilise the power of digital resources, for staff and students alike? Facebook, Google +, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Delicious, Diigo…etc. etc. There are so many ways for educators to use the WWW to take control of their own learning, development, and management of digital resources. Connect yourself to others, and extend your digital knowledge. Don’t wait for the PD to come to you, seek it yourself!


6) How will you utilise technology to personalise learning experiences? And more to the point, how will the students take ownership, control, and management of those learning experiences?


7) How will you teach your students to read and write via digital means? – We know how important literacy skills are. But if we focus only on written and 2D texts, are students in danger of becoming “digitally illiterate”?


8) Are you prepared to model and explicitly teach relevant technological literacies to your students? – This might mean that a certain level of familiarity and confidence is required to be able to model and explicitly teach these. Moreover, how relevant are these activities for students? (Focusing only on publishing written texts on Microsoft Word isn’t going to cut it!)


9) Are you preparing your students for life, or just to do well on the next test that is given? – Is there a “so what” to teaching and learning with digital tools? Can students see a relevance and purpose for their learning?


10) Are you willing to let students have a digital learning device in their hands? What will you do to ensure that it happens? – It’s easy to make excuses as to why ICT is not used in a classroom. Maybe it’s the distraction, Maybe it’s the tech support, Maybe there is not enough to go around. Or maybe it doesn’t work 100% how you want it to work all the time. Work with what you have, or aim to improve the situation if you feel it is not adequate. Improve your guidelines and behavior policies so students have clear expectations on their behaviors with digital tools. Lobby parents and leadership for a 1:1 program, or investigate the possibility of students bringing in their own device.

Are these questions being answered in your schools?

Would you add any other questions to the list?

Web2 Course M5: Creating and Communicating Online

This is a reflection post as part of a Professional Development course our school is undertaking.

In this module, participants were introduced to brainstorming and mind mapping tools. These included Bubbl.us, Prezi, and Glogster:

http://bubbl.us/ – I have been using this for several years, and its functionality and user friendliness has improved over time. They really seem to have smoothed out a lot of the bugs which tended to turn me off Bubbl.us sometimes. If you haven’t used it, it’s essentially a straight forward mind mapping tool with a blank canvas. Ideas can be drawn and connected to each other with relative ease, and there are some options to customise aesthetics in changing the colour of the boxes. It’s useful that users can start mind mapping straight away without the need for an account; but if you want students to retrieve work then it’s best to set up accounts. Simple, no-fuss brainstorming.

http://prezi.com – Now this I have really been enjoying. Unlike Bubbl.us, you can include a wide range of media including images, video, and documents. You can also draw shapes or free hand objects. In a nut shell, it’s a truly creative digital platform! As well as a great way to brainstorm ideas, it is also a powerful presentation tool. One of the drawbacks is that you do need to signup to start using it. Disappointingly,  it has been without Android support for some time as well. However, it has a really useful desktop editor that can be used when making larger presentations with richer content (this way it isn’t so picky about having a solid connection to the web).

Below are two presentations that I have given to staff on the Prezi platform:

The first is about Twitter and it’s usefulness for educators

The second is a report into 1:1 computing (this was at the stage where we were conducting our research before implementation).

http://www.glogster.com – I haven’t spent a great deal of time with Glogster, and I have my doubts about using it with a large number of students. On occasions where I have used Glogs as introductions to topics, a lot of time is spent waiting for all of the content to load. Like Prezi, Glogs can also support a wide range of media. However, I feel that Prezi does a better job at compressing and syndicating the content for viewing. In exploring Glogster, I stumbled upon a fantastic article on Read Write Think about teaching with glogster, and is well worth a look.


As well as the 3 above mentioned tools, there are a few other goodies in the toolbox when it comes to creating and communicating online:

http://www.exploratree.org.uk/ – As well as a blank canvas, exploratree offers templates such as PMI and SWOT organisers.

http://sketchboard.me – A recent favourite of mine, think Google Docs but for sketching! It allows users to simultaneously draw away on a blank canvas. Or you can select from flowchart and schematic symbols from the menu and build diagrams that way. Very cool.

http://www.gliffy.com – Is another powerful platform for drawing diagrams, and has a lot of functions under the hood. Loving the integration with Google Apps.


So there you have it, 6 awesome tools for creating and communicating online.

And while they are awesome online tools, I don’t think we should give up on paper and pen just yet! You need not look any further than Paul Foreman’s work: 

 He has a really useful guide to mindmapping which I use with my students all the time. I await the day where an online tool can match the creativity and originality of a hand drawn mind map. Sometimes it’s worth putting the computer away!

Which tools do you find most useful for creating and communicating in your classroom?

Web2 course M4: Digital Storytelling

This is a reflection post as part of a Professional Development course our school is undertaking.

In this module, participants were introduced to digital story telling through videos, podcasts, and vodcasts.

Digital story telling has been a pet interest of mine since 2008. Back then, and with a group of educators from Melbourne, we went to South Australia for a mini study tour. One of the visits was to the extraordinary Australian Science & Mathematics School in Adelaide. Here I was introduced to Photostory for the first time, and was instantly hooked. Whilst it is now outdated and no longer officially supported, to date it is still one of the best pieces of software for authoring digital stories for the following reasons:

  • the digital text is built upon photos or images, which makes creation a breeze.
  • whilst other tools might make authoring automatic, in photostory you have full control over text, narration, sound, zooms and transitions; and therefore, the meaning of the text can be controlled more effectively, and more efficient at teaching the semiotic systems.
  • the interface is easy to follow with next and back buttons.

More than ever, digital texts need to be used in the classroom. You only have to consider how much time students spend watching TV, playing digital games or watching YouTube to realise the world in which students consume. I would be a fairly irrelevant teacher if I ignored digital texts and favoured only 2D books. Although, I am not saying we should do without books. We need both traditional texts and digital texts.

Consider the elements inside the book of Eric Carle’s “The Very Hungry Caterpillar”. Other than written text and visual images, there is not much else to it. Consider then a digital version of the same story:


Not only does it have the same written text and visual images, it now also has audio in the form of music and narration, spatial elements of zoom and framing, and images which are moving and animated. Semiotic systems of multimodal texts (see some of Anstey and Bull‘s work) intertwine together to tell the story. This is a lot more complex then just dealing with 1 or 2 systems in a traditional book. Just as we teach students to decode and comprehend 2D books, we should approach multimodal texts in the same way. Moreover, their should be opportunity to view, interpret, create and share them… just as you would with any text students create.

Wasting time on Youtube one evening (as you do!) I came across this intriguingly humorous video:

At the time I thought it would be a great film to show students and have a discussion about the power of story telling through digital mediums. We discussed the language that was used, the camera effects and positioning of the subject, the mood of the music, and how this all told the melancholic story of Henri the cat (Henri is even on twitter!). Using photostory, students took photos of their own pets and told stories of despair and loneliness, in a similarly dramatised and exaggerated way.

Below is an example that was featured on Kidsnews 2012 Episode 18, called Melancholic Max (By Taj, Dion and Khoeby).

Creating fictional texts with students has been great, but we have also used digital texts in the past few years for informative texts eg. like reports, explanations and procedures.

When I first started creating multimodal texts with my students, they were not of great quality. This was because I was so focussed on getting stidents comfortable with the tool that I forgot about what writers need for the writing process… scaffolding! Now when creating digital texts with students, planning and story boarding becomes a critical determinant in the quality of the text. I encourage my students to think about 2 points when planning for a digital story, what the audience will see (image) and what the audience will hear (audio). Asking the students to plan for the image, zooms, transitions, narration, music and effects gives a holistic approach to ensure that the 5 semiotic systems of multimodal texts are used within each other to convey meaning. An example of a simple storyboard planner that I use with my students is below (see http://bit.ly/ZHd2FZ for a soft copy):

As well as digital media, our students produce a weekly vodcast called Kidsnews, a live 10 minute newscast that is streamed across the school. Students design, edit and produce each show in our school multimedia studio. As the hosts sit in the studio on a Thursday morning, they are watched on by students, staff and parents on interactive whiteboards in each learning area of the school. Here is an example of a typical show, which was the last for 2012. Kidsnews in 2013 is due to start when students return in term 2.

One possibility in 2013 may be to utilise a service such as www.ustream.tv. The show is broadcast around the school on Thursday mornings, which allows parents to watch on if they are around. The show is uploaded to www.stmarks56.global2.vic.edu.au during the day which allows members of the community who were not present at school to watch. It also means that members of the wider school, and other blogging communities on our blog roll can view the students’ work. Using http://www.ustream.tv however, would mean that anyone interested could watch on live through the internet as the broadcast continues to be shown throughout the school.


How do you teach with digital media in your class?

Web2 course M3: Google Apps

This is a reflection post as part of a Professional Development course our school is undertaking.

In this module, participants were introduced to Google Apps. I have been a “googly user” for some time now and began experimenting with Google Docs several years back when it was still in beta stage. It was slow, clunky and full of bugs. It was picky with some browsers, and didn’t work well on Android (back then version 2.2).

What a difference a few years makes. I was really impressed last year when I started to have a serious play with Google Drive, a cloud storage solution closely integrated with Google Apps. I have found the experience much improved now, across browsers and devices, from PC to mobile.

The advantages for using Google Apps in the classroom are many:

  • could potentially save money on server hardware, as files are not stored at school.
  • could potentially save money on software licencing, if going “completely google” and not paying for a microsoft licence.
  • files are accessible anytime, anywhere.
  • files are accessible across devices.
While these are all amazing advantages to have, it does come with its caveats:
  • a reliance on bandwidth to access the cloud,
  • doesn’t completely replicate the Microsoft Office experience, however most common tasks can be achieved.

Since Google Drive became a much more robust experience, I started to experiment with some uses of Google Apps with my students. Not satisfied, I wished to pursue more development in this area. In 2012, Mike Reading worked with our school to introduce us to the many possibilities of using Google in education (check our his blog here). In January 2013, I attended the Google Apps For Education Summit in Sydney with a fellow colleague and was amazed at the services Google are now offering, and the way in which educators are incorporating them into teaching and learning. It is good to see Google has finally stepped up their game in the field of education; I think they have been relatively quiet for some time on this front.

Below are a few resources that I have found extremely valuable in my professional development in using Google Apps:

https://sites.google.com/site/amslerclassroom/Home – Guide to using Google Sites
http://learn.googleapps.com/ – educational guide to Google apps
https://sites.google.com/a/googleapps.com/k12-guide-to-going-google/ – guide to going google
http://www.google.com/edu/ – Google in education

Here are a few examples of how I have managed to successfully use Google Apps with students:

  • Surveys – collecting basic data in forms from students and parents becomes super efficient
  • Feedback – collecting useful information for reflection from students post lesson with a simple form
  • Collaboration – creating a class document to gather input from all students
  • Script writing – using presentations and docs to create the script and backbone of our kidsnews program
  • Assessment – creating pre and post assessment instruments to inform teaching (we have done this really well in maths, and I will be presenting at the upcoming ICTEV13 in May on this topic)

With our 1:1 laptop program in year 5/6, there is further potential for Google Apps for teaching & learning. Currently we are linking our school domain with Google to enable access to Google Apps and provide a google education account for our students (any regular account requires users to be 13 years of age). Once this is complete, it would be good to get our teeth stuck into some further advancements with Google Apps:

  • E-portfolios – using sites to record learning
  • Calendar – for timetables, events and organisation
  • Blogger – student blogs to reflect on learning
  • Books – to store literature and reading material
  • Picassa – for storing images
  • Gmail – for more efficient email communication

The road ahead looks exciting!

How are you using Google Apps with your students?

Web2 course M2: Blogs

This is a reflection post as part of a Professional Development course our school is undertaking.

In this module, participants were introduced to the concept of blogs. For me, blogs are a great communication tool. I love how Commoncraft explain blogs “In Plain English”, and have used this time and time again with my students when starting our blogging program at the beginning of the year:

We have been using our class blog with our students with great success for the last 2 years, www.stmarks56.global2.vic.edu.au. Whilst it takes a while to set up, there are a lot of anecdotal advantages that I have observed in using blogs with students:

  • it gives an authentic purpose for writing
  • it increases communication across students, teachers and parents
  • flattens classroom walls and connects learning to the world

It’s in the last point that the biggest advantage is, and a crucial reason to blog with students. As I mentioned in a previous post, educators need to skill students in critical skills for the web, but also provide the opportunities for practise. I have found blogging to be a terrific way to incorporate  digital citizenship, cyber safety, copyright, writing and typing all in one nifty package.

For anyone wanting to set-up a class blog with  students, I would highly recommend Kathleen Morrisclass blog to see the potential of a well designed blogging program. She also has a personal blog and includes a great guide to educational blogging. I have used Kathleen’s resources for our own program, and she is a true inspiration and leader in educational blogging!

What advantages are there for students to be involved in blogging?

Web2 course M1: Web 2.0 tools

This is a reflection post as part of a Professional Development course our school is undertaking.

In this module, participants were introduced to the concept of Web 2.0 tools. For me, this is not an entirely new area of discovery, but there were 2 resources that I had not come across before. The first was this video titled Viral Education 2.0

And the second was this brilliant list of Web 2.0 resources curated by @kristenswanson and @joycevalenza.

I remember the web prior to “2.0”. Essentially for years the web was a “read network”, where you would call up a webpage and have information at your fingertips in front of you. It was a web that was not really designed for interactivity, which I think in essence web 2.0 is about (the read & write web). Hardware and software has developed, internet connections are faster, and users today are more connected than ever. This is what has afforded the nature of Web 2.0 interaction (whether it be creating content online, commenting, sharing information, social bookmarking etc).

I thought about Web 2.0 tools that I have used with my students over the last few years, particuarly those which have devloped over time since their inception. Wallwisher (now Padlet) and Wikispaces stands out in my memory, and more recently the use of Google Apps.

A website that I have been using for a few years to discover Web 2.0 tools is http://www.go2web20.net. I remember visiting this site in university, and was a good way of keeping tabs onto the next start up that was available on the web. Recently, I haven’t found it as useful for discovering new services, but perhaps the way I user twitter and RSS today has changed the way I disseminate information.

Which brings another point from this module, and one from the Viral Education 2.0 video mentioned above. My favourite quote was “How can we syndicate this flow of meaning into understanding?“. As the http://www.go2web20.net shows, the web is a vast, ever growing network that develops not each day, but every minute. I think it is also demonstrated nicely by this infographic:

It’s literally a jungle out there. So my critical point is this, that as educators we need to ensure that our students have the ability to make sense of the vast WWW. For this, I think 3 (non exhaustive) things need to happen:

  1. we as educators need to understand it ourselves.
  2. students will need critical cognitive skills to search, comprehend, analyse and critique complex information from the web.
  3. students need the opportunity to exercise those skills in safe settings.

To me, this is what effective integration of web 2.0 tools in the classroom should entail.

How do you integrate Web 2.0 tools in your classroom?

A journey in Web 2.0 tools

Our school is participating in an online professional development course provided by the Catholic Education Office of Melbourne. The course is self-paced and follows a series of modules that introduce participants to a variety of web 2.0 tools. Given the ever rising need to effectively integrate technology into the classroom, we decided that this course would be useful for our school.


Part of the course includes the setup and maintenance of a blog, which will be used for reflecting on each of the 10 modules. Some of my colleagues are already onto their way on setting up their blogs:













I will be posting a reflection after each module and tagging it with the following tag: Web 2.0 Course.

Hello world!

This is the first post on my new blog, ReconifgurEd.

I am calling this blog ReconifgurEd for a few reasons. Firstly, I believe that a fundamental shift has been happening in education since I was a primary student during the 90’s . In the short time of my professional career, I have experienced and observed this shift and it’s impact on teaching and learning for both the better and worse for learners (this is the education part). On a global scale however, I think that some education systems are still grappling with change and the improvement of student outcomes. Moreover, the rapid development of digital technologies have opened up new possibilities for formal and informal learners. For this reason, educators need to think critically about how their practise can be improved, whether it be through evidence-based practise, or utilising technology to engage students and enhance learning (this is the reconfigured part).


In short, ReconifgurEd will be about.

Learning: which is student centred, authentic and purposeful.

Change: which is innovative and creative.

Technology: which transforms teaching and learning, and opens the door to new possibilies.


I will be using this blog to reflect on my teaching, connect with other educators and share resources and ideas with a global community. You can read more about me in the About section on this blog, or find me on twitter.