Posts Tagged ‘Australia’

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.

Screen Shot 2013-09-24 at 10.15.26 PM

The school I teach at, as part of its 150 year anniversary celebrations, has been hosting our brother school from Tonga. This is an interesting story in itself, as this College was founded by the same “first” headmaster, only 3 years later, in 1866. 

We have 90 boys and staff staying with our boys and staff, as billets. It has been an inspiring and often humbling experience. Those we are hosting come from a situation of limited means, yet their spirit and ability to give makes us look like minnows by comparison. In our chapel on Sunday evening, we were blown away by the performances of their choir and brass band, respectively and together. At the time, our Headmaster made an astute observation; despite our financial and technological strength, we are the ones who receive the greater benefit from our mutual relationship. Why might this be surprising, when we aim to support them with educational and financial aid each year?

Simply, it amounts to the idea that those who have least to give, often have the most to offer and the greatest generosity to boot. From my perspective, it highlights the power of service. Another, former, headmaster of mine, took pains to explain to the students that to be a leader in a school does not equate as the one who gives all the orders. Instead, a true leader is demonstrating their ability and capacity to serve. This observation struck me at the time and came back into view with the current visit from our Tongan friends.

While it is commendable for our community to make donations that support charities, the greater recognition for us comes from when we give of our time. There are occasions when I feel that (and this is not meant to be a nasty thought by any means), it is simpler for us to make a monetary donation and, perhaps, in doing so, salve our conscience from larger concerns. By contrast, I have appreciated the accounts from our students and staff who, when visiting Tonga, have been met with a people who give up their own residences to house us, who stay up the whole night preparing banquets and cutting down the trees to ensure that there is sufficient firewood for the feast to take place. Their love of God, of community and generosity is a lesson to all at my school. I reiterate that it has been a humbling experience.

I sometimes get asked whether, being an English teacher means that I want students to be able to learn how to read and write (put a little simplistically). I tend to observe that, for me, I would rather that I encourage students to have the ability to actively question the world around them, than they have a set of rote learnt answers. Additionally, I would like my students, to have that wider world view – one that recognises the need of others and how best to further those aims. I hope that the lessons of this week will have a lasting effect, long after our Tongan brothers have returned to their homeland.

Was there an unlikely skill or area at school that ended up serving you so well later on in life?

There was some media exploration of the declining numbers of girls studying mathematics as senior students this week (in Australia). I’ve provided a link to one of the articles, in the Sydney Morning Herald here. This post isn’t looking to explore this topic per se, but the topic did get me thinking more broadly about the subjects you study at school, and their relevance to your future. We have all wondered about that subject just making up the numbers so that we are eligible for the final qualification. Tales in the days of old of a bonfire of notes post exam for that much maligned subject that you somehow ended up taking, have been around for years. But what about things that aren’t even subjects, that end up helping you beyond expectation?

Students often ask me if I always wanted to become a teacher and are surprised when I say “no”. I was always good at English but it was rarely my strongest subject in terms of results. My mother was a teacher, as was, for some time, my paternal grandfather. When asked what I was going to study at uni and I responded “Arts”, it usually elicited an “Oh… so you want to me a teacher!”, which I seemed to rail against. But, I got to the end of my Arts degree, then an Honours year and hit a wall. What now?

Lectern

Lectern (Photo credit: Timmargh)

Mum suggested I look at a Dip Ed. At the time I was hoping to become the next big Australian playwright and having the chance to do a bit of part time teaching seemed like a good way to support the ‘craft’. The same year I was doing the NIDA Playwrights’ Course. With three months of the Dip Ed to go, I’d decided it might be good to get the C.V. in order, apply for a few jobs for experience and without quite knowing how, wound up with a one-year position for someone on maternity leave. That one-year ended up lasting me for nine, before I switched schools.

So back to the question at the top – and my answer to the students – the unlikely skill set that best helped me with where I am now? It would come down to two things. The first was Debating. I took it up in Year 9 and can recall the first topic “That there is too much violence on the news”. I was first speaker and can still recall the sheer terror of talking ‘unscripted’, with my mouth drying up to make this uncomfortable smacking sound as I tried to pronounce words and make them into something approaching a coherent sentence for an eternity of minutes. But over the next three years, unwittingly, it taught me how to breathe, how to think, how to pace myself and, perhaps most important of all, how to speak in front of large numbers of people without gabbling-like-I-used-to-do-when-slightly-nervous-and-excited-in-equal-measure!

The second stemmed out of English, out of my love of writing. It was joining the Drama Society at University and along with watching and being involved with plays, discovering that I wasn’t bad at writing them. Out of that came my ability to enter a Diploma of Education in English and Drama, without my having formally studied Drama. Out of that came the chance to study for a year at NIDA. Out of that came the chance for me to get an interview for my first job as a teacher… one that I got. And, perhaps most happily, out of that came the chance, with my first play touring to a University Theatre Festival interstate, to meet the girl who would end up becoming my wife 9 years later.

So this post probably has more in common with Ken Robinson on Creativity than a call for more students (of either gender) to study mathematics. But it’s nice to think that I can tell my children that, thanks to the Arts, I was able to meet your mother and ultimately, to be able to have you.

I’d love to hear about those unlikely or serendipitous moments from your education that perhaps had a greater sway on your life than you could possibly envisage.

On Monday I will start my first degree since the early 90s. I’m undertaking a Masters in Education, specialising in eLearning. The differences in the two approaches couldn’t be more pronounced. On the one hand, my first English lecture had 800 odd sitting listening to a lecture from a professor with decades of tenure, discuss (I think) the novel, Joseph Andrews. At the time (1989), I was in awe of the University itself – the oldest in Australia – with the size of its place, all of the buildings and the 1000s of students. So this wonderment transferred quite happily to sitting and (trying) to take notes in an A4 Lecture pad while the one-way delivery of performance was given. There were  “tutes” of about ten people, where we would break down the lecture in a more informal and social fashion. Then there was the social side – of clubs and societies, the cafes and bars and growing friendships. There were no mobile phones, the internet didn’t exist and, as I recall from a Psychology I lecture, “my presentations are copyright, so you are not permitted to make audio recordings of these lectures”.

Sydney University Quadrangle 2

Sydney University Quadrangle 2 (Photo credit: iansand)

How much things have changed. Now my University is 700km away and I am studying “by distance”. Ironically, “distance” can actually be measured in metres; the distance to my nearest computing device. Thus I was checking my (required) university email account as I lay in bed last night via my iPad. I can access all the online readings, the library database, the course notes… even the course participants who I will be discussing ideas and working with, without requiring any form of travel outside of my home. There are Facebook pages specific to the course and a Twitter hashtag to follow. I’ve already started using Notability to turn my required readings from PDFs into annotatable documents that automatically sync to Dropbox. I’ve started to use “e-highlighters” in a range of colours without unzipping a pencil case!

I’m excited with what’s about to follow. Most of my work will occur via a Moodlewhere I’ll be able to take part in discussion bulletin boards, use the class Forum and receive and submit my work. I am conscious of the self paced learning which recommends 12-15 hours per subject per week. It is self paced to a degree as I still need to complete those readings and submit those pieces of work. So while I might not need to sit down for a lecture at 9am on a Monday any more, I am conscious that I need to sit down some time and do that work. My education has, until now, been predicated on a timetable and while it still exists, the goalposts are being excavated ready for the subsequent shift. The irony is that I still play field hockey for my alma mater and fondly recollect that learning that I did in those days.

University of New England (Australia)

University of New England (Australia) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, if you ever pop by in the future, feel free to give me an e-kick… up the back side, to keep me on course and get me back to my studies!

The blogging boomerangIt has been six months since my first post. This, after setting up my WordPress account (via a colleague at the school I teach at) in November 2011. At the time I had no idea what I was going to write about, so it lay “fallow” for half a year. In what has been probably the best new thing I’ve done in 2012, you can work out, by association, that my knowledge of blogging has come about behind the process of blogging itself – therefore, less than six months of experience. This includes ideas such as (as obvious as it might seem now), reading other blogs, commenting and “liking” on other blogs, as well as finding ways of promoting your voice more broadly.
During this time (and I type this as a mere acolyte!), I have come across a range of other blogs, bloggers and topics. This has included the “super” bloggers, who command readerships in the many thousands, down to the minnows who, like me, are relative newcomers to the blogosphere. And the way that I have come to engage with the blogging community has changed as well.
Initially, I would seek out the established blogs, hoping both to find the ‘secret’ to a wider audience, as well as seeking the wisdom of those who had been doing this for years. What were they writing about? How did they use voice? Did their content change much to reflect different topics or was it consistent for the most part.
Now I find myself looking for the diamond in the rough – the newer or smaller blog. It is affirming to find new, fresh content and I know from personal experience, there is a compelling child-at-Christmas-like (in keeping with the current festive season) wonderment for the blogger, whose site you visit and like or comment on. This goes even more so for those moments when you discover that they are in a different country to your own, asking yourself, How is it that they came to view my site?
Not that I want to say I’ve left the “big” blogs behind- I haven’t. It’s just that I’m also enjoying finding the rarer gem. I’m equating it to a “Blogging Boomerang” – an analogy along the what-goes-around-comes-around concept, except that the small boomerang that you throw out, in the shape of contributing on other sites, returns to you as a much larger device, in the form of fresh interest in your own site, coming from the reciprocal viewing that might take place, along with other passers by who observe your comment on that visited site, never mind all the varied reading that you discover along the way.
So then, in my blogging greenness, I profess to not being adept at finding these sites. I’ve used Freshly Pressed and this offers up a good smattering of possibilities. Likewise, I’ve typed in various topics (such as ‘Education’ in my case, as one example) into the Reader setting, but with limited success. I know that there are over 58 million WordPress Blogs alone, so even taking out 50 million as private blogs, “dead” blogs or even ones that never got “started”, there should still be a gold mine worth of content to find out there (and, I’m guessing, a lot of under explored sites).
Put simply, I’m not sure I’m doing the searching the best way I can. Ideally, I’m looking to keep it reasonably “in house” using the WordPress platform, rather than go “out” to Google and search more broadly that way. Is that a mistake or a limitation on my part?

So, a promise to anyone who has got this far in reading this (hello!), as a relative “minnow newbie”, I will come and peruse your site should you let me know you’ve been to mine – and hope to grow your readership too. If you have tips of how to find those burgeoning sites (or even some great ones to look at that you think I’d appreciate), I’d love to hear from you, as always.
Till next time then…

iBlog – uBlog – we… Blog  luring

This post might seem to preach a little to the converted, and for that I apologise from the outset. If you are already writing a blog, what I am about to say may well be obvious. For those who are considering starting one, or want to know more about the aspects that you might not even be aware of, this will have pertinence to you.
Firstly, I should mention that I have been running a mini-unit in my Year 9 & 10 English classes in the wind down towards the end of the year. It has been the first time I have run something like this and many of the students, with the “post exam afterglow” were initially resistant to doing something “on blogging”. For those in Year 10, who started this first, the word blogging equated to some journal writing; something they had no interest in. Step one in amending-as-you-go-teaching saw me do away with the word blog and look to use site more generally. This (Year 10) is not a highly graded class, but there are a lot of students with specific interests and abilities. Some of them hope to play higher level/professional sport. Suddenly, the nomenclature changed, a few souls could see the worth of such an enterprise. The Year 9s, following a week later in the process, were far more amenable from the outset. For many of them, the ‘hook’ took quickly.
So what is the lure?
For them (and me), the hook to addiction comes in several parts. The first comes in determining your site name. The bit that will come after the old “www” part. Because it is what I have worked with, I have used WordPress as our key format. I am sure that other blogging sites use similar systems, but for now, bear with me.
Seeing students assume that (and at this point, I didn’t know how many sites there are hosted by WordPress – now I am aware that, as I type, there are over 58 million worldwide) they can walk in to “basketball.wordpress.com” because basketball is their thing and (because WordPress is in the title, so it’s not like “basketball.com”) no one else will have thought of it as a title, is amusing. What they thought would take 1 minute to do, ends up taking half a lesson or more, as they want to get the website title just right… not settling for something that’s too obscure. And why not? Wouldn’t you rather stumble upon something memorable and feel like you’ve staked your claim to that title? They certainly did.
The next two things came in quick succession. Before I could get round the room in the case of the Year 10s, most had already put up their first post. It was only after this that I was able to steer them back to considering why their “About” page might be worth a little bit of thought. This, along with working out what the site title would be (and the summary subheading that sits underneath this) made sense, when they had got past the excitement of setting the whole thing up. Helping me to ‘sell’ this idea, was the concept that this might well be the start of their ‘digital’ identity – one that they would like to develop and promote. Suddenly, students weren’t that keen to link their site to Facebook. It wasn’t about their friends seeing their efforts, it was more about creating something that went beyond the quick here-and-now that FB offers. As one student in Year 9 also offered, Even if we did connect our first post to FB, we all have so many ‘friends’ that the feed goes by so fast and no one would necessarily see it. 

Suddenly, substance took priority over immediacy.
While this was going on, the real hook was about to catch. I had been showing the class my own site (this one) in the form of its Dashboard. This has some compelling pieces of information embedded into it. Amongst them are the “site stats”. I’ve copied the scene that you would see, were you to have access to my Stats page.

The snapshot for the last week

The snapshot for the last week

Jokes aside regarding the (relatively) small breadth of my readership from the boys, they soon made some striking realisations. The most telling of these is that, for whatever reason, someone in Venezuela, came across my site. This came to prominence when, after several days, a few students realised that they only had ‘stats’ from Australia and, to be frank, these probably came from friends in the class who were ‘clicking’ on their site. A few boys had managed to get some views, mostly from the United States and these were held in high regard. However, even these were ‘trumped’ in days to come, as a couple of students managed to establish their first “followers” – mostly linked to the blogs that were sport based and had a broad appeal. But the seed had been planted in many minds. How and why would someone in Venezuela be in a position to be clicking (by the way, hello there in Venezuela!) “on Sir’s site!!”. I was reminded of an excellent blog by Daniel Edwards on The 10 Stages of Twitter – as the students  “Sit waiting for a response – feel unloved.” – highlighted in Stage 3!!

And so, the hook ‘takes’. For those not new to blogging, I wonder how accurate the following is: how often do you log on to see if you have ‘more hits’ and, perhaps even more compelling, whether you have new countries in your Stats? Isn’t it both satisfying and addictive, in equal part, to discover that there IS an audience out there for your efforts? For those contemplating starting a blog, this (and so much more, such as how people type phrases and questions into search engines and, by doing so, end up ‘clicking’ on your site) is a fascinating side to the form that you might not be aware of.

It certainly makes the process and the thought behind what I do, all the more considered. Even if I know that many coming to my site might be there by accident, and so, not hang around for long. Who doesn’t appreciate an audience?

Anyone else got any blogging lures?

For those reading my blog overseas wondering What is Naplan?, think of a series of standardised tests, undertaken in years 3, 5, 7 and 9 in Australia. For those reading in Australia, I’m guessing you’re already aware of it.

There has been a fair bit of coverage in the media of late about Naplan, including, of late, the stress that it has put students under. For a good overview, see Jewel Topsfield’s article in the Sydney Morning Herald this week. I have “taught” Naplan a few times now – to Year 7 classes mostly and, this year, to a Year 9 class. This is also the first year that my own son, in Year 3, completed the tests. Topsfield’s article captures most perspectives accurately. I think both sides have important points to make. Naplan certainly provides a snapshot of where your child “is” and should, over several years, give an indication of how they have developed in relation to larger cohorts (school and nation, for example). However, I am also conscious that some schools spend ridiculous amounts of time “teaching” Naplan skills. I’m reminded of the excellent Heckler article, again from the SMH in March, from a teacher – Testing Times for Teachers and its amusing take on the pressures to prepare for the upcoming Naplan test, even though it’s months away. The idea that we jettison valuable content opportunities for a wholesale (and, let’s face it, dull) process of teaching to one test is disconcerting. Again, I’m reminded of a number of talks by Ken Robinson – well worth viewing – including the one illustrated by RSA, Are Schools Killing Creativity? 

I also have a larger concern and this is it: I wonder whether Naplan might be testing what it is setting out to test? I’ll give one example to highlight my idea.

This year, once again, the main focus in the extended writing task in English has been on Persuasive Writing. This, in varying guises, goes across all the age groups. Thus students are taught/drilled in ways of writing a piece of writing that aims to persuade the reader of a position, along with an understanding of the various text considerations that are representative of Persuasive Writing. All good so far.

But, I would like to think that Naplan is not so much about skills that have been rote learned. So, let’s say that, instead of writing an extended piece on Persuasive Writing, we were to switch it at the last minute for a piece of Creative Writing. In theory, for some of the students, this would have been an aspect examined by Naplan until only recently. And, I understand, it is due to be switched back to this at some point in the future.

Then one could see how a student ‘stands’ at that point in time, on a piece that they would have developed skills in, as part of a larger curriculum, over the last two years (since their earlier Naplan examination). So rather than a process built, mass-produced response that everyone is building towards, we could explore how students are faring more broadly.

Perhaps a more flippant way of looking at it is to compare it to a scene in the film Rain Main. Dustin Hoffman’s savant character Raymond is fantastic at counting cards for selfish brother Charlie in the casino, yet cannot distinguish between the price of a candy bar and a car which are both “about a hundred dollars”.

 

Maybe we should be looking at Naplan and assessing its value in fresh ways as well.