Archive for September, 2013

My reason for writing this is to highlight how PLANE, the online Professional Learning Program for teachers, has been affected as a viable Online Learning Community (OLC) and to draw attention to those who might be unaware of this.

PLANE's landing page

PLANE’s landing page

For the uninitiated, PLANE stands for Pathways for Learning, Anywhere anytime – A Network for Educators. It offers a series of resources and professional learning in ICT for teachers. Learning comes in the form of short skill snacks that take a matter of minutes, to lengthier and more involved quests and courses. There are forum boards, a twitter feed, an activity stream, a virtual world based on Second Life to name but a small number of interactive content. Overarching all of this is the user’s Passport, which sees you accrue points as you journey about the site and take part in a range of activities. Simply, it is an engaging form of stamp or badge collecting. Here is a shot of my Dashboard from late August 2013:

I first came to PLANE earlier this year, during my first trimester of a Masters of Education, specialising in eLearning. A colleague had made a passing mention that I should check it out, and having signed up, I spent about an hour having a click around at this enticing site. This was in March and, having made a comment about it on a Forum panel to my university cohort, my subject lecturer mentioned in a Reply post that it was worth a look, but perhaps after the looming assignment had been completed.

As a result, I did not get back to have a look at PLANE until several months later, in July. It seems that, during this time, substantial changes were taking place that would see this OLC in a very different realm. The first thing I noticed was that the Twitter login seemed broken, so having sent an email from within itself (having managed to connect ‘again’ via Facebook), I heard nothing back from Admin. Later I managed to locate a comment to this effect – and that the Twitter Login would soon be fixed; as yet it hasn’t.

Having logged on, one arrives at the News Page. Here the warning bells start to ring. Firstly there is the current statement, that has been up for many weeks now:

PLANE will cease to validate professional learning or issue certificates for completion of PLANE courses after Friday 27 September 2013. Any registered PLANE professional development completed before 27 September will remain on a teacher’s Institute of Teachers record for the purposes of maintaining accreditation. PLANE will continue to offer the current range of professional learning experiences. Teachers will be able to use this professional learning as Teacher Identified Professional Development only, which is logged by the teacher on the NSW Institute of Teachers website and validated by the school principal or their delegate. Teachers can export evidence pages from PLANE as a standalone HTML website to show their school principal or delegate to have the learning validated on the NSW Institute of Teachers website. For more information regarding Teacher Identified Professional Development, please go to http://www.nswteachers.nsw.edu.au/.

Adding to this concern, the Twitter Feed (#planePL) seems stagnant, with no content from PLANE itself since late June and the Educator spotlight has remained the same during this time (this might be intended). By a sad contrast, the Activity Stream that occupies the right of the screen is scrolling continuously. A quick glance indicates that, for the most part, those “scoring” the achievements are probably new to the site, based on the types of activities that they are being credited with.

Going further and exploring the site in detail only appears to confirm one’s concerns. The events calendar has nothing coming up (the last event was June), the Virtual World is empty when I’ve visited, apart from the three virtual characters at Boot Camp (again, with no events scheduled), the Ask an Expert is similarly stalled in June. Other areas such as the Groups (which boasts a striking 162 groups) reflects stagnation through the lack of activity in Forum posts and outdated page information. One area which seems to buck the trend is the Share Club, where participants have managed to keep the content up-to-date.

In trying to study PLANE for my university assignment as an Online Learning Community, I attempted to do some research as to its status. My Google skills might not be the best, but even I found it difficult to find much in terms of what was going on. What I did manage to locate, in a Forum post inside of the site, was a Google Doc that raised worries about the future of the PLANE website and ongoing viability. Additionally, it highlights particular concern about the loss of accreditation for new scheme teachers, which PLANE offered. There were a number of other concerns raised in a detailed and thoughtfully constructed letter.

The pertinent parts to the response is printed below.

As part of my Masters coursework, participants are asked to take part in Forum Discussions. One exercise asked students to explore the for/against of the statement If you build it, they will come. In writing this post, this seems apt. Perhaps more pertinently is that “they” might well come, but will they stay, or even come back? Are they expected to take on the maintenance of the site thereafter?

It would be nice to know if this last observation is the case. Perhaps this might go some way to helping maintain and foster PLANE’s base. I understand that many of the “pilots” who helped administer the site have gone and that it resembles more of an empty shell today. A lot of money has been put into this and it would be unconscionable to see this drift,  rudderless, towards oblivion.

In closing, take a look at this photo. It is from PLANE’s Facebook page (also with last post in June). For me it captures everything PLANE can and should stand for – the energy of a range of dedicated practitioners who have come together to create a fantastic OLC. Please feel free to forward and disseminate this post in your own social and educative circles. Perhaps it can be steered to a more appropriate course for all users.

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A post about rejuvenation…

I’m one term shy of my long-service leave and have been taking the moment to reflect forwards… should that be proflect? Without ever intending the flow of events, thanks to a range of circumstances, I managed to move from school to university to a teaching job before I’d graduated from university. At the end of nine years, I changed schools and in doing, missed the first chance for long service leave that I might have earned. At the time, the challenge of starting a new job meant that I probably didn’t need the break.

Now, nearly eleven years later from that switch, I’ve decided that a break is probably a good thing. I’m one term shy of 80 terms and aside from the regular school holidays, have moved from term to term in succession. So, I have been taking the time to enjoy the looking forward and the need for time down, which I’ve decided to take over two school terms. And while I don’t want to plan too much, I thought a bit of proflection, in thinking about how I should spend the time, mightn’t be a bad thing.  I’ve got my Masters of Ed on the go, so a couple of units there are factored in and I’ll mostly be around as the kids will still be at school. We might look to go on a holiday, perhaps to Fiji. But I’m enjoying the daydream of what else I might (loosely) occupy my time with. Here is the current list:

  • Might try to build in a bit of exercise – bike riding, swimming, maybe even a bit of running. Something 2-3 times a week would be great.
  • An art class – pen and ink is something that I’d like to have a go at.
  • Or maybe work on trying to crack cryptic crosswords… at last.
  • Some regular piano time
  • Maybe a bit of writing
  • Not re-reading school text books that I’m teaching…

    setting up for a different sort of routine

    setting up for a different sort of routine

The last one leads on to my aim of reading (more or less), one book per week. Being ‘off’ from mid December till mid July means a goodly number of books. Books that I have often overlooked in lieu of school texts or waiting for a time to enjoy them fully. Which is now…

The list, only in its infancy, might include:

  • Catch 22
  • Margaret Atwood (generally)
  • Michael Ondaatje (likewise)
  • Cormac McCarthy – No Country For Old Men
  • A Russian novel… not sure which… not even sure I’d want to do this! Perhaps Crime and Punishment?
  • More of Peter Carey, more of Tim Winton, more of George Orwell
  • Maybe some novels I ought to read again… Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying which I read in 1990, comes to mind
  • Maybe a run of a literary award… like my gaps in Booker Prize winners
  • A poem a day
  • More non-fiction. Probably some history.
  • Possibly a little literary sugar, in the form of the odd “page turner” or two, to balance out the literary “vegetables”

As mentioned, this is just a general musing as I write this post. I haven’t even visited the books that sit patiently in our spare bedroom! Feel free to let me know of anything that you think would be worthy of factoring in for the proflection, whether it be reading or recreational!

There is no doubt that the ability to work in a group is a highly valuable skill that will be called upon in later life. How then do we best prepare students for this in a post school environment?

This idea was piqued recently with the intersection of two events. The first was a series of workshops looking at Visible Thinking, stemming out of Harvard’s Project Zero. Put simply, how do teachers know that content covered in class has been absorbed by students. The old concept of a teacher delivering a chalk-and-talk-class where you could hear the proverbial pin drop is a good example. While the content may have been covered and the teacher feels it all went well, how much has been taken in my students?

Photo by Susan Sermoneta

Photo by Susan Sermoneta

The second event was the marking of a Reflection assessment by Year 8 students of a group task that culminated in a class performance of a scene from a play. Having marked a similar task, a year earlier, the similarities in the responses were striking, despite the year’s gap between the two tasks.  The content covered was dynamically different – from a contemporary play in Year 7 to an excerpt from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and this was reflected in the different ideas about the text and how to approach the task. However, the accounts of the processes of working in the groups were quite similar. This led to the thought; why not look to develop a hierarchy of group skills?

Students are put in groups from a young age. Socially, they seek out friendships from the first days of schooling, if not beforehand. The idea that you will be put into a group of or get yourselves into groups of X is commonplace. From here teachers often ask how the process is going, based on the task at hand of the shared goal or goals that the group has. Individuals may well be asked to reflect on how it felt working in a group, including what barriers were faced (individually or as a group), approaches that were used in an attempt to overcome the barrier, as well as how one felt about the experience looking back on the task.

But what is done about group skills beyond this? I have worked with students on Outward Bound courses where Bruce Tuckman‘s Stages of Group Development was in play. Here teams will go through a series of steps (Forming – Storming – Norming – Performing) as they work through a shared task. At the time, this approach seemed novel to the students, who often found amusement in being ‘stuck’ in the Storming stage as they vented their exasperation to the wild when a tent stubbornly refused to be assembled in the face of driving rain.

As an initial response this post seeks to posit this idea as a precursor to future discussion. Group skills are envisioned in a similar light to Tuckman’s work. This would see an element in group work where students are able to directly develop group skills and look to reflect on the process. Then, a critique of a variety of group approaches could be considered as part of a learning tool. The aim of a future post will be to explore and promote some group skill possibilities, along with ways of assessing their use. In the meantime, suggestions or experiences that have worked in the classroom are most welcome.