Digital literacy – A communities’ responsibility

Digital literacy – A communities’ responsibility

Image source: Unsplash

The new Australian Curriculum rightly demands that all students become digitally literate and learn coding, as both will be crucial for future job opportunities. But this is easier said than done in an already crowded curriculum. Without appropriate support, schools with limited resources will struggle to deliver on this admirable but ambitious goal.

The “Embracing the Digital Age” project is a key component of the Australian government’s National Science and Innovation Agenda. Designed to establish Australia as a global leader in science and innovation, the project aims to ensure young Australians are highly digitally literate and have the necessary digital skills to thrive and prosper in the future workforce.

Demand for digital literacy in the workforce is already high. The recent Foundation for Young Australians New Work Order report series showed a 212 per cent increase in demand for digital literacy skills by current employers. The new Digital Technologies curriculum, which will be compulsory in all schools by 2018, has the capacity to help meet this demand. Designed to develop computational thinking, design thinking, systems thinking and problem solving in all students from Prep to Year 10, the curriculum provides a robust guide to follow.

But for teachers, schools and school leaders, it raises a lot of questions and builds a lot of pressure.

The Australian Curriculum is already bursting at the seams, so where does this new element sit in a full curriculum? The new curriculum’s rationale states that “deep knowledge and understanding of digital systems” are needed. However, a jam-packed curriculum only promotes breadth, not depth. Throw in the pressure for schools to perform well on high stakes testing such as Naplan and developing depth and understanding in areas outside literacy and numeracy become much more challenging.

The specialist thinking, skillsets and language required by the Digital Technologies curriculum are also posing a bigger challenge for schools. Who will teach it? How will we teach it? While some schools are lucky enough to have teachers with the necessary expertise and passion, this isn’t the case at every school. Kevin Rudd’s Digital Education Revolution (DER) was designed to bridge the device access and infrastructure gap between schools, but are we now facing another divide? Is access to staff with extensive digital expertise and pedagogical capacity the new digital divide?

As it currently stands, schools and teachers without the specialised expertise or experience must learn on the fly and offer engaging, robust programs that teach students how to code or deal with big data. While there are a plethora of fantastic resources and training available, is this enough to deliver on Victorian Education Minister James Merlino’s requirement that all Victorian students learn to code?

For the National Science and Innovation agenda to succeed, these resources and programs aren’t enough. Nor should this responsibility fall solely at the feet of schools and teachers. Developing our nation’s future innovators and thinkers is a collective responsibility and it really does take a village.

So How Might We bridge the digital expertise and skill divide within our schools so that all learners, teachers and students have equity of access?

Firstly, schools need to look is in their own backyard. What parental expertise do you have in your community? Who can you bring into the conversation? Our diverse school communities offer a tremendous array of perspectives and experiences and schools need to find positive ways to harness them to foster community around this challenge.

Schools have always been great hubs for community engagement and in the space of digital technologies, we can look to communities like Connected Community HackerSpace (www.hackmelbourne.org) or Footscray Maker Lab (http://footscraymakerlab.com/) for inspiration. Outside of the school community, there are also fantastic not-for-profit organisations such as Code the Future (http://www.codefuture.org/) and the Tech Girls Movement (http://www.techgirlsmovement.org/). Driven by social good and not profit makes them the perfect companion for schools struggling to bridge the divide.

The Digital Technologies curriculum is a good step forward for Australian schools but schools need support to deliver on its admirable aspirations. The mecca of digital innovation, Silicon Valley, began and grew thanks to a rich community of hobbyists and electronic enthusiasts. It is with ‘community’ in mind that schools and their wider networks can help inspire our future innovators and disrupters.

In my next post, I’ll share my school’s 3D printing journey. A journey not possible without partnership.

Design and Play – our podcast workflow

Design and Play – our podcast workflow

I have listened to podcasts for a long time. It is the medium that I get most of my learning inspiration from. I have written about my enthusiasm for podcasts here and here. Equally as long I have wanted to start a podcast but have been too… (insert excuse here). At the end of last year, I decided to stop with the excuses and start with the doing. The podcasts that I enjoy the most tend to have great banter between two hosts or an interviewer and interviewee so I set out to find a co-host. Dean Pearman and I had been exchanging great professional banter for quite some time (most of it in GIF form!) and so I asked Dean if he would co-host a podcast all about education and technology called Design and Play.

When Dean and I started recording the Design and Play podcast, we had no clue where to start. I had been collating articles and workflows that people had shared but we were total amateurs. From my reading and my experience working with media, I knew that having great audio was the key (D’uh!) but how do you achieve that when you physically aren’t in the same room. I hope this post sheds a little light on the workflow that we have developed to make Design and Play come to life.

Planning.
All of our planning is done in OneNote. We set out episode guides with information about who is doing what during the show (welcome, guest intro and outro, etc…), a list of key topics/questions that we wish to explore and a collection of resources and links to dive into as well as to share in the show notes. In our first few episodes, we were a little overzealous and tried to cram in too many topics but in the last few episodes, we have worked off two or three key areas and allowed time for the conversation to percolate. We constantly refer to this during the podcast recording but as you can hear during the show, we sometimes let the conversation go where it needs to go. We also have a permanent fortnightly booking in our calendars to record the podcast. We have found fortnightly to be a really manageable time to live our own lives, work, source guests, record, produce and then share the content socially. I would love to record every week but sustainability is a much more important focus for us at the moment.

Gear


I use a Rode Podcaster mike as my microphone of choice. I borrowed this from the library at work and find the sound to be fantastic. It is a USB mike so works brilliantly for recording straight into my computer. Speaking to our AV guy at work on ways to improve sound and he gave me a windsock to stop the popping and limit the heavy breathing during the recording. I record straight into my MacBook Air and compile everything on Garageband. We originally used Garageband as the sole recording tool but found some limitations. Dean and I use Skype during the process to connect with each other and our guests. After the audio in our first episode wasn’t as rich as we would like (Dean was stuck in a well), we did some research and landed on a great tool called eCamm Recorder for Skype. When we start a Skype call, the eCamm recorder window pops up. With a little adjustment of the audio settings, we are set up and ready to go. The reason I like the eCamm recorder so much is that it saves all recordings in an easy to access archive but more importantly, it allows you to export the recording as separate tracks. I’ll touch on this a little more when I discuss post production. Dean and I both use bucket headphones to listen to each other. We also try to find quiet spaces to record although if you listen carefully to the recordings, this isn’t always achieved. We also record a back up track using Garageband of our own audio. This is to prevent crashing and the loss of lots of hard work.

Dean, Terry and I in action on episode 4.

Post-production
The eCamm recordings are then dropped into Garageband and because they are on split tracks, I can adjust the audio levels to bring up the volume of each speaker. This allows the podcast to have balance and for the user to have a pleasant listening experience. The intro is prerecorded using music from www.bensound.com which is a fantastic site for (some) royalty free music. The post production phase takes a little while because there have been episodes with technical difficulty and so sometimes we need to split and cut tracks to edit out certain parts. To ensure quality, I make sure to listen to the track a few times which is time consuming just due to the fact that our episodes tend to run for 45-50 minutes. Once the episode is finished, it is exported as a Mp3 and saved to a shared Dropbox folder. This allows both Dean and I to listen to the complete podcast before it is uploaded. It does feel odd listening to yourself podcast but we want to make sure that the audio is of a high quality. From here, the file is uploaded to our Podbean site. We chose Podbean as a site as it is a site dedicated to Podcast hosting. As we were in the prototyping phase of the podcast, we wanted to be as agile with our solutions as possible. It meant that we also didn’t need to build a website initially. We do plan to do this and to blog to further unpack some of the episodes but for the start-up phase of the podcast, we wanted a site that could handle the hosting of the podcast, the RSS feed generation and the integration with iTunes. Podbean does all of this and as we move to our own website, we can still tap into Podbean to host the podcasts and simply embed the episodes on our site. The iTunes integration with Podbean make it really easy to manage the episode description, shownotes and iTunes specific requirements such as language, authors, etc…

iTunes, SoundCloud, and Stitcher

Each of the spaces we make our podcast available have varying requirements to upload content. For iTunes, I simply followed the instructions found here and signed into PodcastsConnect. For every new episode, I simply refresh the RSS feed (there’s a link that I click in Podcasts Connect) and wait for an hour or so and the episode is live and available on iTunes. For Stitcher I had to sign up for an account which required a little waiting but it automatically updates now once the RSS feed is updated. SoundCloud is a little more manual and we are still operating with the free account, which unfortunately only has an hour upload limit. This means that old episodes are now not available. Podbean is fantastic because the analytics allow us to see where our listeners are from and how they are accessing our episodes. This really allows us to know where to target efforts to continue to promote the show.

Once an episode is live, we promote it via Twitter and LinkedIn. We have a Design and Play Twitter handle and this allows us to keep the word spreading.

The podcast is completely a love job. We love discussing topics of interest and have been overwhelmed with the response from people. We are still very much amateurs and I hope this workflow motivates you to get that podcast you’ve always wanted to start off the ground. Happy to connect and share to talk through any details.

 

Facilitating pedagogical conversations

As defined by the Oxford dictionary, pedagogy is the method and practice of teaching and I wonder how teachers discuss their craft.  How often do you have conversations about pedagogy with colleagues?  Is it a common occurrence?  What do you discuss about pedagogy?  How do you discuss pedagogy?  Personally I use the Modern Learning Canvas, a visual learning model developed by Richard Olsen. The Modern Learning Canvas breaks up the teaching and learning approach into nine essential components and allows you to view your teaching and learning holistically through each particular lens.

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The nine essential components are as follows:

Learner role – What decisions, voice and choice does a learner have in their learning?Strategies – What strategies do they use to learn?
Enablers – What enables these strategies to be effective?
Sequence – What is the order of the activities that they undertake?
Culture – What are the shared beliefs about what makes learning successful?
Policies – What are policies or rules that make learning successful?
Educator role – What value does the teacher bring to the learning?
Outcomes – What are the essential learning outcomes?
Pedagogical beliefs – What do we believe about teaching and learning?

These key questions are designed to provide conversation structure around teaching and learning practice and innovation. At the heart of the process is what you believe about teaching and learning, your pedagogical beliefs. Every element of your teaching and learning model should be validated against what you believe about pedagogy otherwise what’s the point. If you don’t believe in an element of your approach then why is it in there in the first place.  The Canvas can be a daunting framework upon first viewing but when created in a group, can really unlock a clear set of pedagogical beliefs.  Below are two examples that I co-created with colleagues.  The first is for a rewrite of our Year 7 Multimedia course and the second is an analysis of the Games Sense approach in Physical Education.

Year 7 Multimedia
Year 7 Multimedia
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Games Sense in Physical Education

The process of capturing pedagogy together is unbelievably powerful as it leads to great clarity and conversation.  You will also notice in the Games Sense canvas that there are green lights on each box.  This is a great feature of Richard’s website.  You can validate each component against your pedagogical beliefs.  The below image shows what this looks like on the site.

Validated against pedagogical beliefs
Validated against pedagogical beliefs

Although the Modern Learning Canvas is a powerful process on it’s own, it is actually a part of larger more complete process.  Richard calls this the IOI process or Inquiry Oriented Innovation.   To truly capture this, I’ll share in a series of posts.  To get you started with the Modern Learning Canvas, download a free printable copy here.  Have a go today and let me know how you go.  The more I use the Canvas as a tool, the more I start to view all elements of teaching and learning through theses nine lenses.  As always, thanks for reading and comments welcome.

The 3D printing landscape

The 3D printing landscape

On Saturday, Zara and I visited the 3D printing showcase at Melbourne Uni.  The showcase was held over two days (Friday and Saturday) and was a mix of exhibitions, hands on demos, guest speakers and student displays.  I went last year and the event was much smaller and so it was pretty amazing to think how quickly the landscape had developed in just one year.

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Walking around the showcase with my four year old daughter, I started thinking about where the 3D printing world would be when she was older.  In the 2013 Horizon report, 3D printing was listed as four to five years away from large scale adoption in schools.  So looking at that timeline leaves us about half way.  The price is a huge limiting factor for schools but with the increase in demand and in suppliers comes the price war that will drive it down and make it more affordable for all.  At my school we have dipped our toes in the water and purchased the UP Mini and it has been extremely popular with all age groups.  Students download images from Thingiverse or use Google SketchUp to create and print their own ideas.   We now have a large collection of things.  Printed models that look nice and have a wow factor but the learning in my opinion is low tier at the moment.  For me, the purpose of each printed item is largely lacking.  I would like a spinning top so I print one.  I would like a dragon for my desk so I print one.  I’m looking for designed solutions.  Items that add value to society, solve a problem or enable high level creative originality.  The best examples of 3D printing use at my school have fallen into these categories.  One of our IT technicians didn’t have tweezers small enough to complete a particular task so he printed a pair.  One student had an original idea for an engine and so he designed it and printed the components (this kid will be famous one day, amazing learner!!).  3D printing in education is still an emerging technology and so we are still in the midst of just printing things.

How does it become mainstream?  How does it become embedded?  In my opinion, Purpose, Pedagogy and professional partnerships.  Designs need real purpose and not just gimmicky.  The pedagogy needs to rich and enable original design and thinking.  Schools needs to partner with professionals in the industry to tap into their knowledge, skillset and resources.  Understanding how it is used in industries such as engineering, medicine, etc… really can increase the potential for students.

 

Is the learning in your classroom “hard fun”?

Seymour Papert often talked about learning needing to be “hard fun”.  Make writing hard fun.  Make reading hard fun.  The term hard fun was brought to his attention by a student who was working on a LOGO project.  It was a student enjoying what they were doing , being thoroughly challenged by what they were doing and most importantly enjoying the tough challenge.  This is fun but it is hard.

Reading the recent media blow up of the OECD reports and the really loose correlation between the amount of computers in a school and a student’s literacy and numeracy performance, I spent some time wondering about the health of tech use in our schools (For a great analysis and synthesis of the OECD report, check out Audrey Watter’s post here or a Storify of Richard Olsen’s comments here, thanks John Pearce!).  In my role, I see great learning with and because of technology.  I also see really low level use.  The high level use is most often synonymous with creation and the low level use is most often synonymous with consumption (Audrey really hits the nail on this one).  The OECD report was really loose with their explanation of what computer use actually referred to and this for me was a frustrating element as the loose correlations and inferences allowed for plenty of finger pointing.

With the report digesting in my brain, I spent the week in the classroom wondering how the OECD landscape compared with my own.  When did computer use benefit learning?  When did it not?  On Friday, my Digital Leaders presented their Makey Makey projects during Junior School assembly.  The hand made guitars and piano stairs were created wholly by these students and there was so much “hard fun” present.  Creativity, critical thinking and collaboration were in abundance and the learning was phenomenal.  Straight after that I worked with my Year 9 student’s on a media project and I was pulling my hair out in frustration at the low tier use.  They weren’t really enjoying the work and were completely satisfied with handing in “just enough”.  I’m not sure what the opposite to “hard fun” is but they had it covered and ironically enough these Year 9 students would be eligible for PISA testing next year.  I spent plenty of time reflecting on the two classes and I kept coming back to “hard fun” and not the OECD assumptions.  The learning for my Year 9 students was somewhat engaging, had wavering challenge limits and the results showed for themselves.  Is this because of the technology?  Nope.  These students were really apathetic about what they were learning.  There was no genuine interest, no real purpose and throw in a heavy conditioning program to do well on tests and get good grades and you arrive here.  What happens in the gap between Year 5 & Year 9?  Where is the hard fun?

How does one create experiences that are hard fun for everyone?  According to Ben Wildeboar, (@WillyB),

“Designing hard fun learning experiences requires a bit more flexibility, a lot more student control, and a heckuva lot less “feeding” students the one right way.”  

The notion of fun in a school sense is a particularly interesting concept.  In a landscape of national curriculum, standardised testing and ATARs, can we really let the students choose what they learn?  There are schools like Templestowe College that are allowing this exact thing and are transforming the learning for their community as a result.  Would it work at your school?  Choice is not everything but It is fun choosing what you wish to study.   Papert  “argued for learning experiences that are fun because they are hard“.   Learning that drives you to push through when you are struggling.  The sad part is that nowhere in the OECD report was there any indication that the use of technology was hard fun…just a whole bunch of web browsing, skill and drill tasks and low level thought tasks.

 

 

More than just programming

I remember learning LOGO at school fondly.  I loved the interplay between the language and the output.  What we were creating was really basic but the whole process was really engaging.  These days the landscape has shifted tremendously and there is a plethora of options to introduce learners to programming.  One of the best ways that I have seen to introduce young learners to programming is through the use of a tiny little robot called an Ozobot.

ozobot

The Ozobot is a line following robot which follows black, red, blue or green lines or special combination of lines called Ozocodes (see below for the Ozocodes).

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Click on the image for a PDF link to the Ozocodes

Writing a program that the robot can follow is as easy as drawing a line on a piece of paper.  My four year old was able to do it instantly and the Year Four students I worked with yesterday were able to do it instantly.  It instantly appealled to all age groups, boys and girls and allowed students to program a robot.

Mini programs that my daughter and I made together
Mini programs that my daughter and I made together

However, to just limit the impact that the Ozobot has (and other programming mediums) to just learning how to input code to specify a specific output would be selling it short.  These are the extra elements that I witnessed as a result of learners using the Ozobot.  Due to the fact that programs are easy to write and rewrite, learners quickly entered in a rapid prototyping frame of mind.  They made short programs, tested them and then readjusted or gave themselves a tick.  It was building learning resilience and reflective thinking because the effort required to have success initially was not threatening.  Once learners had success or didn’t, they quickly tried again and were highly motivated to do so.  The great element about the low entry level for success was that it then built up an increased willingness to take learning risks and rise to learning challenges.  Learners openly discussed with peers about their programs and offered solutions to challenges.  The programs tapped into individual creativity and allowed for each learner to add their own programming flair.  When I used one Ozobot with a small group of students, it promoted turn taking and testing respect as students had to wait to have their go and also had to wait till the program had run its course.  Now with a low entry level for success, there is the possibility that the interest level will wane once there is no more challenge but not with the Ozobot.  There are a range of iPad apps that the Ozobot can be used with.  It can be as simple as the lines on a blank page or can escalate in difficulty to OzoBlockly which works in a very similar fashion to Scratch.

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The best thing for me though was seeing and hearing students fist pumping and cheering when they achieved success.  In my opinion, the learners of the future will need to be fluent in a second spoken language and also a programming language and the Ozobot is definitely a great introduction to the amazing world ahead of them.

Year 4 students creating their first robot programs
Year 4 students creating their first robot programs

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some thoughts on professional development

[Image: Flickr user Denise Carbonell]
I’ve spent a lot of time recently thinking about professional development. Over the past month I have presented at the DLTV conference, ran an all day workshop on transformative learning to staff from around Victoria and have completed numerous training sessions with staff from my school. After the exhilaration of such challenges, some amazing conversations and plenty of reflection I was left with a few lingering thoughts. So what better way to flesh out my thoughts than to jot them down in a blog post.

“It’s all about the networking”
It wouldn’t be a conference without this line being spouted numerous times. Are conferences merely vessels for networking? Are the sessions just background noise while we chat amongst ourselves or through back channels? For me, yes and hats off to DLTV for providing a conference where you didn’t need to go to a session to be inspired, learn and connect. I spent time in the Games space and the Scootle lounge lost in Lego poetry, discussions with Kynan Robinson about theories of knowledge and listening to Eleni Kyritsis talk about Genius hour. All the while I was hanging out chatting with my good friend Aaron Davis. It seemed the richest conversations happened on the way to a session so sometimes we just kept walking even if that meant we missed out on a session. Sessions can be hit or miss. Looking at the crowd at our session, there were definitely people that would have felt like our session was a hit or a miss. So if the conference is all about the networking and the sessions can be a hit or miss, then what does the conference look like? Can you build a conference around networking or do we need the sessions to amplify the conversation? Is school like this for our students? As usual I’m left with more questions but I would love for some thoughts and feedback from others.

“What are you prepared to give?”
One conversation that really got under my skin was with a colleague who felt she had to justify to the other teachers at her school why she was speaking at DLTV. “Why are you presenting?” “How come they asked you?” “You’ve only been teaching for a few years, what could you share?” This mindset infuriates me. Within a PLN that spans the globe, this teacher is revered but within the walls of her own school she is questioned for speaking out of turn. Her response to the situation was right on the money…”I wasn’t asked, I asked to present!” The best professional development requires giving, whether it be your opinion, your story or your skill. The more that I give to my PLN, the more I grow. Whether it be contributing to the #aussieED chat on Twitter, presenting at a TeachMeet or having a beer and banter at #beerpedagogy, the contributions that I give grow me as a learner.  Preparing my perspective for a blog post or planning a workshop helps me to evolve but it also contributes to the evolution of other learners. One of my favourite quotes is “without contribution, we don’t have true collaboration”. In a classroom, we strive to have everyone engage and contribute however, there are times at PD sessions where we simply rock up and sit back. My challenge to you is to throw your hat in the ring. Give your two cents, reach out and connect with other perspectives and challenge your learning. Aaron Davis wrote a great post on whether or not PLN was a verb or noun in your world.  Make PLN a verb and like my colleague said, just ASK!