My experience in getting started with Genius Hour

Since my return from the #STACCE13 tour, myself and a collegue (@rissL) had the ambition to trial Genius Hour with our students (You can read about her introduction to Genius Hour with her students here). One our trip highlights was our visit to Google in California and finding out more about Google’s 80/20 time, where engineers are encouraged to take 20% of their weekly load to work towards personal projects of their choice.

The question we both had was, what if students were offered the same opportunity? It turns out that many educators have been asking the same, and living the results. In California we had the opportunity to network with an amazing local educator (@bvandyck) who had been doing some “disruptive” things with his students for some time. His version of Genius Hour had 4 simple ideas:

  • 1) It had to be connected to academia, school or community
  • 2) Had to be digital, or use technology
  • 3) Was not to be marked
  • 4) Could only be worked on after core curriculum lessons were completed.

At the ISTE13 conference, we caught further murmurings of terms like Genius Hour and 20 Time. Upon further investigation, it was here that I realised that Genius Hour or 20 Time is essentially the same as “Passion Projects”, which I believe is a term and an idea which has been around for at least a decade. Calling it whatever we like, in essence it is about giving students true freedom to inquiry and follow their heart and mind to their interest areas and talents.

I believe that Genius Hour, for our students, would allow for the opportunities to be engaged and motivated in something personal, allow to exercise creativity, and encourage the development of self-directed learners. Even though we embed inquiry and student-centric pedagogy in a lot of aspects of our curriculum, Genius Hour is allowing for true freedom and discovery.

 

Starting out

I decided to pursue #GeniusHour further on twitter, and came across a few worthwhile resources, notably the Genius Hour LivebinderGenius Hour Wiki, and CybraryMan’s Library of GeniusHour links. These 3 resources are an absolute treasure trove of resources and ideas pertaining to Genius Hour, and are an excellent starting point. I also found the following media and blog articles useful:

 

Introducing to our students

In year 5/6 we have 130 students with their own laptops, which means researching and presenting their information for their projects should be a breeze. I teach together with 4 other teachers in our level.

We started by talking about the idea of Google’s 80/20 time to the students, and explained that we would be offering them a similar opportunity. We stressed that it will be their choice to decide what they learn, and present it however they like. They would be given roughly 1 hour during the week to work towards their projects. I also made this sweet banner as our Genius Hour poster, and explained that photoshop was something that no-body taught me, because I was never given the opportunity to learn it. But I decided to find out if I could teach myself. The result is that I now have a basic knowledge of photoshop! This was the idea that we communicated to them about Genius Hour, that they were to be the ones to decide what to learn, how to do it, and then what to do with it.

Our Genius Hour poster / logo, inspired by the wisdom and genius that was Albert Einstein.

We also talked about one notable genius in Albert Einstein. Albert Einstein was undoubtedly an incredible intellectual man, who contributed a great deal in the field of Science. But a genius is someone who is also creative and uses their natural talents. We aimed to communicate to our students that they are geniuses in their own right, as they have their own multiple intelligences, can all be creative, and all excel in some form of natural talent. It is going to be up to them to be a genius!

 

10 Principles of Genius Hour

In commencing Genius Hour, I designed 10 principles to guide our students in the desired direction (tongue in cheek!…isn’t this how class inquiry sometimes goes?). I based these principles from what I have read and understand about Genius Hour, and suiting it to our students and the desired process.

1) Start with a question – We want our students to lead an inquiry, and the question becomes the most important thing in determining how deep the project becomes.

2) Be larger than Google – This term comes from @rissL‘s idea (see her project guidelines). It means that we want our students to investigate a question that cannot be simply answered with a simple Google search, or a flick through a book. Why teach others about “What are reptiles?” when the answer can easily be discovered for oneself?

3) Work towards a project – We want our students to have a desired outcome, product or goal related to their question; so that they are satisfied that they have actually done or achieved something.

4) Make an impact – We want our students to think about how they can change the world, whether that is on a local, national, or global stage. We are raising the expectations that they can contribute something meaningful, just like our idol Einstein did.

5) Share your learnings – We want our students to communicate and celebrate their learnings and make those above-mentioned impacts. We plan on asking our students to present back to their class in any format they choose, as well as holding an open expo day in our school where other students, teachers, and the local community can come and see the student’s passions and interests. @rissL and I also plan on setting up a virtual expo where our students can share their learnings with each other in an online space.

6) Present and capture digitally – Even though our students have their own laptop, and would probably opt to use their laptop for research and presenting information, we didn’t want to force this upon everyone.  However, we do want our students to collect digital artefacts, even if they are making a poster, model, or completing an action. Having digital evidence means they will be able to participate in the virtual expo.

7) Include a bibliography – We want our students do be digitally literate and 21st century citizens, which means giving credit where credit is due! We are recommending to students that they write down their sources as they go.

8) Don’t ask for a mark – We want our students to be intrinsically motivated and self-critical of their own processes. We are placing emphasis on the students conducting weekly self-assessments and reflections, but we are trying to de-emphasis an expected “mark” as much as possible.

9) Work on your project only when your other work is complete – In some ways, Genius Hour is a direct contradiction to what goes on in most of our school day, where the teacher ultimately decides the content. Nevertheless, the nature of the beast is that there are certain things that the curriculum dictates that we teach, and students need to know. We are hoping that Genius Hour will motivate students to get through the normal syllabus as required so they maximise the time they could be following their passions.

10) Learn by yourself or with others – We want our students to decide for themselves if they are pursuing their interests individually or with others. We are trying to discourage groups larger than 4, as it may lead to some students passively standing by as others take the lead.

What happened next…

…was quite interesting. I was expecting massive enthusiasm and the grins to take hold around the room when the students do the token fist-pump “yes!” to each other when you introduce something as engaging and motivating as Genius Hour. There was a fair bit of that, which was great to see.

What I wasn’t expecting was a few bewildered faces! Maybe for one, because they were in a bit of shock about the whole idea, or for two because they didn’t know where to start. On the extreme end, sadly there were some tears to be had as well, even from “the smart” kids. Upon reflecting about this, the few students that struggled with this initial idea of Genius Hour are falling into 2 categories ; 1) the kids who struggle at being truly independent and taking charge of their learning, or 2) the kids that appear to be “clever” and are great at churning out the answers when spoon-fed, but struggle when it comes to creativity.

As mentioned at the top of this blog post, our goal is to give students the opportunity to be engaged and motivated, exercise creativity, and develop self-directed behaviours. While it might not all be plain sailing, our job is to ensure that we guide all students through this process.

 

Their ideas

We provided a proposal template in the form of a Google Doc and asked that each student submit their idea and plan to their teacher. As the proposals star rolling in, we are giving students feedback by leaving a comment on their document and suggesting changes or tweaks where necessary. A lot of our feedback is directed to students in firming up their essential question to set up their projects. By and large, there are some interesting, creative, and deep ideas coming through, including:

  • 3 students who want to educate drivers on the dangers of illegal street racing, and provide solutions for car enthusiasts in a safe environment.
  • 2 students who are investigating the pros and cons of radiation
  • 3 students who want to learn how to program in python to make an educational game for the junior years
  • A student who wants to promote surfing as a recreational sport, and re-design the surfboard
  • A student investigating the benefits of wind energy

Next steps

Overall there is a large amount of enthusiasm shared by students. I think they, as well as the teachers, are looking forward to what they will be coming up with over the next few weeks.


 Resources

For anyone interested, here is a link to an example proposal template that we used with our students:

A summary our principles.

And also, for a bit of inspiration, this poster for students struggling to come up with their ideas (credit to @mrsdkrebs and her blog post where I got this idea from)

A Storify of our #STACCE13 & #ISTE13 study tour experience.

In capturing some extended thoughts, reflections, learnings and memories from our recent #STACCE13 study tour, I thought I would create a Storify of select tweets and photos from the trip. It has been enjoyable to sift and pick out the key learnings and moments from each part of the tour and curate them into one journal. I hope that you, the viewers, enjoy reading about our experiences.

View “The 2013 ACCE Study Tour ( #STACCE13 ) to #ISTE13” on Storify here.

An interview with Anthony Salcito for Daily Edventures

One of the highlights from my recent study tour to the USA and attendance at the ISTE13 conference was the an interview and informal chat with Anthony Salcito (@AnthonySalcito). Anthony runs a blog called Daily Edventures (a 365-day look at innovative education).

As Vice President of Worldwide Education at Microsoft, Anthony works with education institutions and partners on a global scale, and believes that “innovation in education is a worldwide challenge“.

We met Anthony when our study tour group visited Microsoft in Seattle. Anthony was also attending ISTE13 in the following week. Narrisa Leung (@rissL, a fellow Victorian on the study tour) and I were invited to share our learning experiences from the study tour, as well as our insights into the Australian and American education system.

Despite our obvious passion for technology, when Anthony asked us about what would be a our most memorable take away from the study tour both of our sentiments reflected “peopleware” rather than specific elements of technology itself. Crucially, the biggest push in educational technology integration needs not to be the technology itself, but the professional development for teachers, the relationships, the pedagogy, and leadership for all stakeholders.

You can read and view the full interview at Anthony’s blog from this link.

 

A refreshed view on Game Based Learning

One of the featured keynote speakers at the ISTE13 conference was Jane McGonigal (@avantgame), director of Game Research and Development at the Institute for the Future. In her keynote titled “Learning is an Epic Win”, Jane revealed the dynamics of gamers worldwide, and the potential of engaging gamers for a higher civil purpose.

Prior to hearing Jane speak I thought I knew a little about Game Based Learning. For the last few years #GBL seemed to be picking up pace in educational circles. At the conferences I have attended in the past few years, there have been various keynotes and presentations advocating games for learning in increased urgency. I would say that I have been mostly sceptical for a few reasons.

Firstly, GBL seems to carry quite a few “buzz words” that get thrown around when it comes to games in learning. Gamification, collaboration, virtual worlds, mass online rpgs, etc seem enough for anyone just to yell out “SOLD!”.  I feared that the hysteria and hype surrounding these words is that for seeking educators it means games are an educational babysitter, through the mindset that “games = fun = engagement = individual learning”

With this in mind, vendors are increasing to offer services, platforms and content in the form of “engaging” games. These are often offered as shining beacons of answers to effective and efficient student development of outcomes. However, for obvious reasons, there’s something about sitting a student in front of a game and expecting magic to happen that doesn’t sit well with me from a educationalist point of view.

At the risk of sounding overly negative about games, I can assure you that I’m not. I’m an avid gamer myself, and have been engrossed in digital and physical games since I could talk. I have been sceptical though, about the benefits and opportunities of GBL; and more importantly, how it is best integrated to support learning.

For this reason at recent conferences I had elected to attend sessions where presenters would give insight into how they have been using GBL as the vehicle for learning. The use of minecraft as a platform seems to be a popular choice. Unfortunately, of the sessions I have attended at ICTE13 and ACEC12, the examples seemed to lack rigour, purpose, and student outcomes tied to curriculum. I don’t think that minecraft can be justified as a worthwhile exercise for students on the basis that the kids are having fun, therefore it’s worthwhile. It might be argued that they are developing communication and collaboration skills, but where is the content? The purpose? The close integration of knowledge and learning? I love games, and there is no doubt kids love games. But I’ve always been wary of its justification in teaching and learning.

After Jane’s keynote at ISTE13, I felt there was hope for making sense of GBL. Still not completely sold, I decided to purchase Jane’s book: Reality Is Broken: How Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World for further pursual. And I’m very glad that I did! In fact I have enjoyed this book so much, that I thought I would write a blog post about it. It has been inspirational to the point where I think other educators, interested in GBL or not, should take note of the themes from this book.

So thanks to Jane McGonigal, I have hit the F5 button on my views on GBL which have now been refreshed. Here’s why:
***

Image courtesy of David Vignoni via Wikimedia

Why should we care?

  • Because whether we advocate games or not, Jane reveals that there are 183 million active gamers in the USA, closer to home in Australia it’s 15 million, and worldwide close to 1 billion. In Jane’s words: This is “creating a massive virtual silo of cognitive effort, emotional energy, and collective attention lavished on game world’s instead of the real world” (pg4). Collectively, the planet is spending a staggering 3 billion hours a week in gaming. Jane explains that these hours are fulfilling genuine human needs that the real world is currently unable to satisfy.
  • In the USA, 97 %  of youth play computer and video games (pg5). Whilst one out of 4 gamers are over the age of fifty, the average game player is 35 and has been playing games for 12 years (pg5). However, today’s students live and breathe a digital world and expect to consume video games.

What’s behind a” good” game?

  • Games have a goal, rules, feedback system, and voluntary participation (pg21). These determine how effective a game is. Jane quotes Bernard Suits in revealing that “playing a game is the voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles”  (pg22). This is precisely what is fun, motivating and rewarding about playing games.

Fun, Fiero & Failures

  • Games are fun, but shouldn’t only be looked at as escapism. Rather, Jane reminds us of Brian Sutton-Smith’s words: “The opposite of play isn’t work.  It’s depression” (pg28).
  • Jane describes Fiero as “the italian word for ‘pride’…it is what we feel after we triumph over adversity…we throw our arms over our head and yell” (pg 33). She also goes on to cite studies that confirm that “Fiero” moments are one of the most powerful neurochemical highs we can experience. It made me think about whether our students experience enough if any “Fiero” moments in their learning. Are they being stimulated, challenged, satisfied, and rewarded with genuine highs in the classroom? Students should be craving satisfying work, with the hope and experience of being successful, just like in games. So do we take note of this, and design lessons accordingly? Or use games as the vehicle for this type of learning?
  • Gamers spend 80% of their time failing, and still love what they are doing (pg64). The culture and mindset of failure in the classroom here plays a big part in embracing learning opportunities and persistence to higher goals and achievements. The nature of games is that the gamer still wants to persist in order to reach that next target.

 Participation & Motivation

  • “If we are forced to do something, or if we do it half heartedly, were not really participating. If we don’t care how it all turns out, were not really participating. If were passively waiting it out, were not really participating” (pg124). These 3 eloquent sentences summarise what it actually means to be participatory. This quote made me think about how teachers allow or disallow students to direct their own learning; learning where students are self-motivated and self-directed, and where interest and genuine enthusiasm is fostered. This is a large positive of GBL because students have to voluntarily participate in the game, therefore they immediately become effective participants if they are interested.

 Re-inventing reality

What the digital realm offers

  • Investigating Your MP’s Expenses is an example of what people are capable of when collaborating through the power of technology. Jane points out that Wikipedia has required crowd sourcing to the tune of 100 million hours of thought.  That is like rounding up a million people and asking them to contribute 100 hours to Wikipedia, for free. Or persuading 10,000 people to dedicate five full time work years to Wikipedia. As Jane puts it: “That is a lot of effort to ask a lot of people to make, for no extrinsic reward, on behalf of someone else’s vision” (pg225).
  • Jane argues that with 1.7 billion internet users, it shouldn’t be hard to pull off projects to the scale of Wikipedia. “If the right motivation could be provided, we should be able to complete 100 Wikipedia sized projects every single day” (pg225).
 ***

In light of Jane’s book, I don’t think I will look at the potential of games and student learning in the same way that I used to. In particular, I have been amazed at what Quest To Learn are achieving in the way that they are structuring their teaching and learning around GBL.

However, I still think there is the danger of laying games over existing  lesson plans and expecting magic to happen. This is not gamification!

In convincing others about what GBL could offer for education, I am predicting that most hesitant educators, particularly those who have largely grown up without video games, will continue to deem video games as a distraction from our real lives, and therefore irrelevant.

To a large point, living our reality is important. However, we can now think of games as having much more potential than just entertainment that serves as a disconnect from reality. As Jane argues in the final chapter: “games don’t distract us from our real lives. They FILL our real lives: with positive emotions, positive activity, positive experiences, and positive strengths” (pg354).

Thank you Jane McGonigal for refreshing my views on GBL! If you haven’t already done so, I highly recommend Reality Is Broken: How Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World as your next read!

*Disclaimer: I do not work for Jane, nor am I receiving any commission on making this post! :p

Have you read “Reality Is Broken”?

What are your thoughts on GBL?

5 take-aways from my first #ISTE13 experience

Over 2 weeks have past since the conclusion of ISTE13, which is probably just enough time to shake the hangover from so many learning opportunities and insights into what was a epic 5 day experience. Exhausted and jet lagged, I’m happy to be back in Melbourne; but I have now decided it is time to make a concentrated effort to post about our study tour experiences at ISTE13 after our industry and school visits in San Francisco, Seattle and Vancouver.

Experiencing the conference was simply mind blowing. The enormity and scale of the conference was confirmed with me yesterday when an email arrived from iste.org. In the email they revealed that ISTE13 embodied:

  • Over 13,000 participants
  • 74 countries represented by 1,855 international attendees
  • 373 Access ISTE participants (our new, one-day virtual conference)
  • Over 4,500 exhibitor personnel
  • 499 educational technology companies represented
  • Over 1,200 volunteers, and nearly 1,100 presenters
  • More than 50,000 tweets using the official #iste13 hashtag making it one of the top trends on Twitter during the conference
  • More than half a million pieces of digital content were created during ISTE 2013
  • 14,000 downloads and activations of the conference app with 178,000 opens and 18,000 hours of combined use

 

Before leaving the tour, I was given sound advice from the ACCE president Tony Brandenberg, who offered that the conference needs to be done in byte-sized pieces. These words could not have been truer. ISTE13 was an amazing learning opportunity for any one who was in attendance, in both a physical sense and digital sense. With so much to do and see, you do run the risk of feeling overwhelmed by the scale of the conference (particularly if you are a first timer like me). At the same time, it meant late nights and early mornings. It meant full on schedules during the day by running from place to place, and switching modes cognitively from listening, to sharing, to collaborating, to discussing. Nevertheless, I found ISTE13 to be both thought provoking and inspirational.

I came across this great blog post which summarises the top 10 conversations at ISTE13, which gives good insight into some of the themes that were emmerging from keynotes, sessions, and thougts from attendees.

Below is an attempt to summarise my 5 major takeaways from the ISTE13 experience

 

 ***

A refreshed view on Game Based Learning (GBL)

Jane McGonigal (@avantgame) is a designer of alternate reality games, and was the first keynote speaker at ISTE13 with “Learning is an Epic Win”. Jane alerted us to the fact that there are now 1 billion active gamers around the world, and provoked us into thinking about how games could be used to solve real world problems and engage students in meaningful learning. I particularly loved her point about the nature of games and failing, in that a lot of gamers spend their time failing to reach the next level or required target. Yet these gamers persist and continue to try and try again. Why would gamers spend time, energy and money to play games to only fail time and time again? It made me think about the motivations behind the dynamics of games, and how these can be utilised for educational experiences. Jane offered a list of 10 positive emotions that games evoke, which really summarise the engagement and potential that games offer. If we could find even just a small way to use games to leverage educational content to evoke even some of these emotions with our students, I think we could make a big difference.

Jane McGonigal communicating the wide impact of games globally.

10 positive emotions from gaming.

I must admit, going into this conference I looked upon GBL with a lot of scepticism. Jane’s thought provoking keynote offered a lot of genuine insight into why gamification does matter, what it is, and what it is not. At the moment I am reading Jane’s book, Reality Is Broken: How Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World and it is changing the way that I think about GBL. A small snippet and some reflections from Jane’s ISTE13  keynote can be found below:

 

Google Apps as a platform for e-portfolios

Of the many sessions that I attended, a favourite of mine would be Helen Barrett’s (@eportfolios) workshop Create Interactive E-Portfolios Using GoogleApps: Docs/Drive, Picasaweb, Blogger, Sites . This year we introduced a 1:1 laptop program in our senior years, with the aim of using Google Apps to allow students and teachers to connect, publish and collaborate. Helen’s session was very valuable for me at this point in time in order for us to take the next step with Google Apps with our students, as they are well on their way to familiarising themselves with Drive and using Documents. For the last few years we have already been placing the emphasis and importance for students to self-reflect, collect and manage evidence and reflections of their own learning with what we call “Personal Learning Folders”. I look forward this term to digitising these in a more efficient and effective way with our students in the form of an e-portfolio that can be viewed and celebrated by all students, teachers and even parents. Helen’s site is a terrific resource of her expertise with eportfolios.

 

The ISTE13 Iron Chef Challenge

One of the spotlighted sessions at ISTE13 was the Iron Chef challenge. A fellow compatriot on the tour (@rissL) and I decided to have a go at this, and we were very glad that we did.

The Iron Chef Challenge was organised by the Young Educator Network. The idea of the Iron Chef challenge was to collaborate together with a group of people to solve a problem. You can read about the intent of this idea and the process behind the scenes at Krister Moroder’s (@edtechcoachingblog post.

The problem came in the form of several ingredients which had to be used to form a creative solution. The solution was to be presented to a panel of judges and would be scored. @rissL and I teamed up with Michelle from Arkansas (@buckaress) and Lynda from Texas (@lswanner1) to form Team Naked Techs – “Keeping ideas simple and fresh, Jamie Oliver style!” (see the full list of teams here).

Our ingredients were:

  • $12,000
  • 500 students
  • A digital Citizenship program
  • A lack of shared vision with staff on how laptops are used

In our scenario we pretended that we would be applying our ingredients to a 1:1 laptop program that wasn’t going very well for students and teachers. We then had to come up with ways to solve the problem using only $12,000, our time, skills, and ideas.

We got to collaboration straight away. We decided to use Google Presentation for our slides. We set up a Google Doc to make notes of our ideas. We used Google Draw to make pictures of our dishes (solutions). Naturally we ran out of time in session but we could still work together later at night from our different hotels. We also drew on each other’s areas of expertise, abilities, and professional experiences.

The time came for us to present our idea (you can see all presentations here), and I’m proud to say that Team Naked Techs were declared joint winners along side Team Cruncheez! It was such a thrill to win the ISTE Iron Chef Challenge, and it was great to work together in a group of other like-minded individuals. I learnt a lot by listening to everyone else’s ideas about their problems and creative solutions.

As mentioned in @edtechcoaching‘s blog post – the words “Connect, Collaborate, Create” are served as a constant reminders of learning opportunities that should be offered to our students. But do we practise what we preach? The Iron Chef challenge was a creative way of getting the educators to experience these words in a real sense.

 

Best – keynote – ever!

Adam Bellow (@adambellow) is the founder of Educlipper and EduTecher. Hands down, this was the best keynote I have ever experienced. Adam was passionate, captivating and enthralling all at the same time. He was incredibly fast paced, enjoyable, and his use of visuals were extraordinary. At one point, I couldn’t take notes any more because I was just so captivated in what was happening.

Below are a series of tweets that I managed to blurt out in between being in total awe. These, for me, represent some of the most resounding points from Adam’s keynote.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was humbled that I actually got to meet Adam in person a few days earlier at the ISTE Welcome Reception. He was nice enough to let me try on his fancy google glasses which he wore on stage when he delivered the keynote!

 

People Power

Adam Bellow is just one connection that ISTE13 has enabled for me. ISTE13 was a wonderful conversation starter and enabler of connections with so many other educators and like minded individuals. The little conversations here and there, the opportunity to come together in networks of people with a common cause, and being part of a massive movement in both a physical and digital sense has been awe-inspiring. I was challenged and engaged in many deep thoughts and conversations. For me, this reaffirmed Amanda Dykes’ (@amandacdykespoint that the most important thing in education today is people.

 

 ***

As I mentioned earlier, ISTE13 literally ran me off my feet but it was worth it in every sense. Evidence of my mental and physical exhaustion can be seen in this photo of myself and @rissL taken after Adam Bellow’s keynote to bring the conclusion of ISTE13 (note the swollen, puffy, panda eyes!):

Bring on ISTE14!

Some of the sessions at ISTE13 were recorded and can be seen here. The ISTE youtube channel has a collection of other videos that are also worth checking out.

 

San Francisco, Seattle and Vancouver #STACCE13

So far it has been a bit of a whirlwind tour during our time here in the states. We have spent the last 10 days touring some of the tech giants of the world (Google, Intel, Microsoft, Adobe) as well as visits across the education system (from elementary, to secondary, right up to district level).

To hear from the tech companies and their take on education was interesting. There are a few developments in the work at each of these companies, and there is a definite recognition that consumers want applications and services that will run across devices. Hardware and software alike are continuing to improve to provide richer and more powerful experiences, which the consumer will ultimately be the winner as this innovation continues.

There is also a big emphasis on BYOT and BYOD concepts, not only from the industry perspective, but also from the education systems. There is no doubt that this will be coming like a steam train, and is already a reality in several secondary, and of course, tertiary systems.

However, large questions remain around some of the age old questions that we always seem to face. How is the technology enhancing teaching and learning? What are the factors of educational technology integration? How can ubiquitous access be provided for all students?

It seems that in some sectors of education here and back in Australia, that there are some schools doing extremely well at answering these questions. On the other hand, this is not a reality nor a consistency across the sector. I do feel though that the systemic and collective understanding within education over the last few years has improved in this regard. My fear however, is that given the rapid development of technology, the early adopters will continue to steam far and ahead of those who have not come to grips with powerful teaching and learning that is enhanced with technology.

Today is a day of transit for our group as we had to ISTE13 in San Antonio, which will no doubt, be an awesome experience!

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The ACCE Study Tour 2013 #STACCE13 to #ISTE13 ramps up!

Last year, I had the pleasure of attending and presenting at the Australian Computers In Education Conference 2012 in Perth. It was here that the ACCE advertised their annual study tour for expressions of interest from educators wishing to take part. After hearing about the learnings, stories and experiences from previous participants of the tour, the ACCE13 study tour sounded like an amazing opportunity to expand my horizons. Needless to say, I signed up straight away!

 

Less than 1 year later, here we are, one day before departure, bags packed, ready to hit the USA for the tour. Tomorrow, a group of passionate educators across Australia will be departing Sydney, Australia for the West Coast of North America. We will be conducting industry and school visits in San Francisco, Seattle and Vancouver. The tour will then arrive at San Antonio, where this year’s #ISTE13 conference will be held. This, no doubt, will be the epic highlight of the tour.

 

Over the next few weeks, I will be blogging about some of my experiences from the tour. You can join me on this blog or via the twitter hashtag #STACCE13, which is the official hashtag of the tour.

 

#STACCE13 tour participants, what are you most looking forward to?

Have you attended the ISTE conference before?

Web2 Course: Final Reflection

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

 This is the final (reflection) post as part of the Web2 Course that our school in enrolled into. When deciding to participate in this course, it wasn’t for the reason of learning about Web 2.0 tools. Rather, it was the opportunity to learn and lead with colleagues. Particularly as our senior school has embarked on a 1:1 laptop program, this movement forward was vital. As equally important is the capacity of teachers in the years leading up to to the senior years.

 

Although I didn’t gain a whole lot of new information from undertaking this course, I still enjoyed it for a few reasons.

 

Firstly, by being familiar with the course content, it allowed me to lead other staff at our school in supporting them to utilise ICT effectively for our collective students. We often held “Techie Brekkie’s” where we could come together informally to discuss and share resources and ideas to support teaching and learnings. I thoroughly enjoyed this, and have been inspired by how some staff have really taken this course in their stride to increase their own understanding of current and emerging web 2.0 tools.

 

By participating in this course, it reaffirmed my beliefs and knowledge regarding the wide range of tools at our disposal, and the myriad of ways to use them. However, one mainstay for me is that it still comes down how these tools are used…for better or worse; as I believe poor pedagogy and the introduction of ICT can at times only amplify the ineffectiveness of teaching and learning.

 

Have staff developed their capacity to effectively use ICT to enhance learning? Hard to say.

 

Did the course build confidence for staff in pursuing ICT tools, and expose them to the reality and necessity to harness technology to its true potential? Probably, yes (hopefully!).

 

 

Web2 course M10: Virtual Learning Environments

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

In this module, participants were encouraged to consider tools to design Virtual Learning Environments.

Web based instruction has been a popular educational delivery option in many sectors of society. Given its growing use and potential however, it is important to understand if this delivery option is effective; as well as the contextual, pedagogical, and theoretical approaches that augment its effectiveness. The use of the www in the delivery of education does not necessarily equal effective activities or quality instruction for students. The development and advancement of technologies has brought the increased expectation of technology should be used in education. This is where Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs), Learning Management Systems (LMSs) or Content Management Systems (CMSs) have been implemented by educators in a way of responding to the change of trends in education in recent times.

Below are 5 tools that can be used to design online learning:

Wikispaces: A great tool for it’s ability to let users edit, build and comment upon changes to pages and content on a simple structure.

Google Sites: is a lot like wikispaces, although it does have a wider range of widgets…and of course, googly integration into its other services (for eg. Google Groups for setting up discussion forms).

Nings: Nings are a lot more social, and allows spaces to be designed so users can contribute to personal and shared contributions.

Edmodo: Like Nings, interaction is social. Files, assignments and libraries can be shared and accessed easily.

Moodle: Open source software that requires web hosting, but a fully fledged LMS that quite a few university institutions are using it as their platform.

This year I have had great success in using Wikispaces with our students in our 1:1 laptop program. First, let me begin by explain where we have come from.

For teachers in the catholic system here in Victoria, you might be familiar with the online system SINA and MyInternet. Since I graduated 7 years ago, MyInternet was already in schools. It was slow, unintuitive, and handled like a shopping trolley. Nothing much has changed to this day in 2013, and this is what schools are given to use (and we are still waiting for the implementation of ICON, based on the DEECD’s Ultranet system; which promises to be somewhat better than MyInternet).

So, with the introduction of widespread laptop access this year, it was imperative that our VLE be based on something robust, quick, easy to edit and post content, and relatively easy for staff and students to navigate. I would say wikispaces has fulfilled this purpose perfectly. At the moment we are using it in a very transmissive way, in that, teachers upload links, lessons, files, and activities onto the wiki, and then we access them as a class, group, or individual. Having a reliable and easy to use platform has made our teaching and learning with the laptops very effective.

Personally, I have noticed that my teaching has changed in how I design lessons and resources for the IWB. For example, our students have a sequence of lessons to complete in order to earn their “Laptop Learner’s License” as part of our 1:1 program. The lessons are described on a full page, complete with learning intentions, success criteria, and instructions to specific learning activities which sometimes include links to images, media, and external links. The lessons have been designed so that if students are away and miss a lesson, or if the lesson is incomplete, they can complete the lesson at their own pace in their own time. Writing the instructions and designing the lesson so students can independently go through the lesson process with minimal need for adult intervention has been challenging! I think this is a good thing, as it forces us to ensure that lesson’s are clear and they have an explicit purpose, including an objectives and assessment means. Not to mention that it is available for everyone to access in one central location!

Which platform are you using for your VLE?