Education Conferences – some thoughts and ideas

This Friday and Saturday the DLTV Education Conference takes place. I have been fortunate enough to have played a role in its organisation and direction. logo@2x

I am a believer that the traditional conference format needs to update to actually reflect contemporary thinking regarding how we best learn.

Self directed learning, network learning, self managed learning are all terms I have spoken of many times and they are all key to my work in attempting to bring transformation to our education system and assist in the natural evolutionary process of our system. These terms represent significant developments in understanding on the nature of knowledge and how we as humans best learn. They are also terms that have increased in generally usage within western education as the metaphor of the internet makes concepts such as “networked learning” something that is more tangible and readily understandable.

Knowledge never resides in the individual it resides in relationships. Those relationships are what build up networks. That is where knowledge resides. It is a key point to understand that dramatically shines a light on many of the outdated practices we continue with in current schooling, practices such as lesson plans, teaching that is based in content or information transferal, learning that supposes an idea of linearity, adherence to top down developed curriculums, and almost all the hierarchical structures our entire system is built on, including teacher as expert, but also many other power structures seen within traditional schools and in our departments as a whole.

Interestingly enough almost all education conferences also adhere to these traditional, somewhat tired structures.

I am organising the Gaming in Education Stream at the DLTV conference and I thought I would try something different with this stream, something that actually represented my thinking about learning.

Let me state again, knowledge does not reside in individuals, it resides in networks.

Complexity thinking says that a highly functioning network, or system, will have a number of key properties. These include:

  1. There will be non hierarchical structure (no centralising controller),
  2. The network will self organise,
  3. There will be a mix of order and disorder, to much of either is disastrous, to much order leads to stasis and death, to much disorder leads to chaos and death,
  4. There will be strong internal communication built into the system,
  5. The system will communicate based on prior memories and new understanding developed through the communication,
  6. The network will be open.

When these are in place emergence arises. Emergence is a phenomenon that cannot be predicted by looking at any of the data that makes up the individual agents within the system. Emergence, in my mind, is another word for pure creativity – it arises from the system, NEVER from individuals. Emergence is new knowledge.

Complexity thinking is the theory that has given rise to such terms as “self directed learning” and the phrase, “teacher as facilitator not teacher as expert”.

So…how do you apply this to a conference. Well, we asked for people to submit expressions of ideas they were interested in presenting about and everyone who spoke somewhere in the region of Gaming in Education, we grouped together. That is an example of forming the initial network.

Self organisation – I then decided to throw out the idea of structured session/timetables as that is an example of top down limiting hierarchy, I tried to put in into place as much openness as possible, I facilitated a number of potential internal communication devices with the group (video conferences, email, Google + etc) but while I facilitated, I never imposed any structures on the group. Furthermore, we were conscious and comfortable with the rule of order and disorder (the network must be sitting on the edge of chaos but never slip in) and then I watched what happen.  I think this group has “self organised” in an amazing way.

We have a number of participants that, in the normal conference style, would just have shown up and delivered there powerpoint presentation on the great work they had been doing at their schools. That is because the “normal conference”  reflects a form of top down hierarchy – it has been predetermined and it almost forces the style of presentation. By removing this the participants in the Gaming in Education stream have now all met each other, discussed their ideas, changed, teamed up, evolved thinking, reorganised their presentations and are now are collectively presenting with others. They are aware that they are part of a system, not just individuals. They have actively participated and the system is creating new things – Emergence.

There has been a general commitment to making our stream experiential so now every one is bringing things to ensure that all participates in our stream are immersed in an experience.

In regards to the variety of games and learning about games, there is cross collaboration within the group. There will be games happening in the assigned rooms there will be immersive games happening throughout other stream spaces and infact there will be one large overarching game happening throughout the entire conference. If you are at this conference you will be involved whether you’re aware of it or not. There will be formal and informal talks, presentations and who knows maybe we might even get spontaneous and impromptu presentations by audience audience members (for use of a better term).

This is also an example of the group wanting to allow the further participants in this new network – the conference audience  - to also now be able to actively participate in the system, and enhance their learning and the learning of the group. We are all co-learners.

Emergence – it is already in evidence through the way the collective presenters of this stream have come together and it will continue to evidence itself throughout the entirety of the conference as more and more participants actively get involved. Emergence is new knowledge.

This is how we learn and develop. It is what I always speak of when talking about what learning actually is, it is key to the work I do assisting schools as they attempt to change themselves to better represent contemporary thinking and hopefully it will be represented in this small attempt to evolve the conference format. It will emerge because we have allowed for the above mentioned things including; self organisation, no hierarchical dominance, and an encouragement for active participation in knowledge construction.

If nothing else its great fun!!

A big thank you needs to go to all the amazing presenters/co-learners in this stream including Dan Donahoo, Jess McCulloch, Roxanne Ciddor, Michael Ha, John Pearce, Nathan Connors, Vincent Trundle, Sayraphim Lothian, Robert Reid form Popupplagrounds and  Kalani Robinson. They have done all the collective learning so far. I just tried to allow for it to happen. Now it’s over to you, hope to see you there on Friday and Saturday.

 

See you at DLTV 2014

NGV with Mick Turners band

I hardly ever blog about my music or the music Im involved in any more, just endless education pieces – not sure why that is. So here is a change.

Last Friday I played a show as part of Mick Turner’s band. Mick is probably best known as part of the iconic Australian band Dirty Three. As a band We have performed a number of times this year alongside Cat Power, when she was in Australia. mick_turner_ngv_0714_justintapp_0004.40f71fb3b94ecaae4459cd568a736632

Photo by Justin Tapp

There is something about Mick’s music that is absolutely incredible to be a part of from an onstage perspective. It has a freedom in  it which is entirely original. I thoroughly advise you to have a listen to it and maybe even go out and buy it.

Here is a review of the show

http://themusic.com.au/music/livereviews/2014/07/13/mick-turner-national-gallery-of-victoria-guido-farnell/

 

 

Is technology becoming an impediment to your lessons?

My role as Head of PD at New Era has given me the opportunity to visit many schools around Australia and work with many of the key stakeholders in schools including students, teachers, leadership/administrators to parents. I have also had the opportunity to work across all the sectors.

While each school is unique, having there own particular needs and cultural beliefs that drive their community, there are still some common similarities that can be found in all of them. Interestingly enough this is becoming more and more so considering the rapid globalisation of our world leading to obvious gentrification.

My observations of almost all schools have identified some key issues when it comes to technology and the problems it creates as well as the changes it demands within classrooms.

The first and most obvious issue is the reluctance of many educators to take it up in almost any form. In fact this is so prevalent that there are still significant amount of teachers who not only struggle but also refuse to participate in conversation via email.

When facing this issue I show them a photo I recently took of my son. I have included it here with his permission.

KalaniThis was a photo taken in our lounge room and when properly deconstructed actually says a lot about the generation of students we are teaching and why so many of them might be disengaging from the type of learning that they are required to participate in during school hours and as part of homework assignments.

If we look at the photo the first thing we notice is that he is on multiple devices – at the same time, but more than that he is on a variety of different devices with different operating systems. And he is using them with a sense of personal control – he is not using the TV to watch TV but rather it is merely a screen connecting to where he wants to connect. He is not particularly concerned about the type of device but is comfortable in switching, or even using them at the same time. In my opinion teaching the device is a wasted teaching session.

Secondly it needs to be noticed what he is actually doing with each device. The most interesting thing for me is that each device is connected to the Internet and each device is “pushing out”. He is looking to make connections with other humans. So often I hear teachers rebut the rapid encroachment of technology with the argument that it is taking away the human element. This would appear to be contradictory to the reality that in fact it is increasing the human element, it is just how we are connecting that is changing.

My son is pushing out to “the network” with each device. One is via a Google Doc, one is via a game, his IPhone constantly connects to large networks through the browser or applications such as Kick, he has a pair of headphones on talking to multiple users, he might be connecting to networks via YouTube to learn more about things he is interested in. Not only does he have these devices pushing out to passively connect he is actually looking to become part of the conversation, share his own learning, find diversity of opinion. He creates his own Youtube channels around subject areas he is interested in, he writes blogs around things he is interested in, he uploads films and animations he has made to networks of kids also making films and animations in similar genres. Each of those connections is looking to connect with people to communicate, collaborate, ask questions, investigate and learn. He is in a constant state of learning in the new environments, which is made available to him via the Internet.

If this isn’t represented in the schooling environments that our students attend then you can naturally see a confusion arising in the students leading to frustration, leading to a disconnection.

If our students are merely required to read slabs of text on subjects such as Genghis Khan with no personal application and connection to the students actual life and then asked to answer the questions on their reading from the back of the book , how does that at all reflect the learning styles and environments that they are accustomed to working in in their “real” lives?

How we connect, who we can connect to and how that can transform learning is a very interesting issue that needs to be closely iinvestigated by all of us as educators. When I talk about technology I am mainly talking about the internet because I think the internet is the most powerful metaphor we have to demonstrate that learning is social and is collectively done. It is not done in isolation and it is much more than one-way information transferal.

Education has always been evolutionary, as we as humans are evolutionary constantly in a state of change. It is just that right now the evolutionary change is happening at such a fast pace that it is creating a natural sense of fear. Fear often leads to resentment and anger and a lashing out at the change agents. There is great fear in educators about technology.

How can we reduce this and assist in this rapidly changing face of education to provide a more relevant environment for our students but also help current teachers to transform and still maintain a sence of identity and personal confidence.

My answer is always place the technology change back in the place of learning and teaching – stop talking about the technology, stop PDing teachers up in endless software, stop “Skilling” them up and start allowing them to return to what the love – learning and teaching. It is a big statement but its deliberately big and deliberately provocative because the conversation needs to change. This also doesn’t mean that at some stage you wont need to “skill up” in a tool but isn’t that the lowest form of teaching – the part you should spend 5 minutes of your lesson on and then allow for deep inquiry. Do we really believe this?

So lets look at a few simple pedagogical issues, which I believe are relevant to all learning and see where technology is changing the way we can approach them.

Content – information transferral of content in my mind is not how learning occurs on any significant level. It is also the very start of our journey into the benefits of technology but it is at least it is a place to start. How did we deal with content in a time when we did not have the Internet? We found the content in books, or potentially in whatever information the teacher had, or maybe we would ask the other students in the class, potentially we would bring in an subject area expert once a term or we would go for an excursion. The Internet has opened this up in unfathomable ways. If all content resides online what are the advantages and potential pitfalls to deal with. Well, the content is more likely to be up to date, relevant, a greater and more diverse range of ideas and opinions are able to be accessed providing for a truer picture around subject areas. This allows for greater questioning and debate amongst the students themselves about the “trueness” of fact based reductive education. It allows for real time accessibility into content, thus not slowing the learning process – every time a child has a question and is forced to wait because they are solely relying on one teacher the learning is potentially slowing. The experts the child can now access are greater in number. Once again they are not waiting until the expert shows up at school but rather they can find the relevant experts relevant to wherever they are up to in their learning journey. This is hinting at more autonomy for the students themselves, they are self-directing their own learning.

Feedback/Reflection/Visible Learning – Feedback has always been a key concept that assists in the learning process. Timely and relevant feedback is very important. Teachers practicing without technology reflect as best they can but the reflection potentially has limitations.

Lets look at an example – the written essay. If a child presents work in essay form it is likely to be read by the teacher when he or she has time, marked and graded (providing reflection for the child). This takes time in a busy teachers life. Lets suppose the student receives the essay back in two weeks. Is this an example of timely feedback enabling the greatest possible learning? Perhaps not, Generally speaking the student is highly likely to have lost interest and the impact of the feedback will be lessoned.

Further more this feedback is limited to the reflection of only one person – the teacher. Now that teacher might be extremely knowledgeable but they are still not going to be more knowledgeable than the group – or network.

What if we opened up the feedback cycle and allowed for reflection/feedback by the network?

How?

This refers to visible learning provided by technology. Through tools such as WIKIS, Blogs, Nings, Google Apps etc. the students full learning cycle can be made visible to all, it becomes transparent. By doing this many people can now become involved with the students learning and actively participate in it by providing feedback (think back to how my son was attempting to learn through his YouTube channel.) Now the feedback can become instantaneous – upload something and spread the word and I’m sure you will get lots of comments. It can become more powerful because of the diversity of the feedback – the network is now providing it. Remember the power of the network is always greater than the individual. Beyond that it allows for the student to comment back – they are no longer merely passively receiving feedback, they can instantly reply with a question or even reply with a better explanation of what they might have been attempting in the first place. To often I have seen poor feedback provided by a singular teacher merely because of the pressure to provide it with the proper time allowed to fully understand the child motivation.

Now once again the child is given some autonomy and is empowered to become more actively involved in the process of looking for appropriate feedback. This can can further the learning – the journey isn’t over once the essay has been handed in. In fact that child can take the feedback, learn, recreate and re upload in order to continue the learning process.

Visible or transparent learning provided by the internet also allows for students to feedback into each others work – thus allowing them to find identity as a teacher themselves. This is a role that all humans actually participate in. It is only through our reductive labelling of teacher and student that we have deprived students of their natural state to participate in this experience of teaching. Now they will naturally take this back and participate because the tools (the internet) has allowed them a way back. It is empowering for a student to feedback into another students work and should totally be encouraged –it is the natural process of learning and teaching collectively as humans. This is were all the conversation around the changing titles and roles of teachers sits – from experts at the front to facilitators to what I like to call co-learners. The Internet is driving this realignment of roles because as I have said previously it is a great metaphor for “social learning” – how we have always learnt best as humans. It is breaking down the hierarchical structures we have imposed on reality through the labelling of the participants as teachers and students. This top down hierarchy reflects nothing of the true process of learning.

There are many more interesting pedagogical issues to think about when talking about technology that I am convinced will make it far more interesting to educators than merely teaching them another “tool” or another piece of software.

By doing so it enables them to return to the conversation, it removes the fear, it removes the power from the IT guy and it will help us continue to evolve our practice and systems to be one that totally engages students in how they learn, totally empowers them to take ownership of their learning journey and totally frees them to love learning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

ICT and Music Education – Striking the Right Chord

The following Youtube link was a recent panel discussion I participated in with fantastic educators Andrew Williamson and Julie Lindsay moderated by Roland Gesthuizen as part of his  fantastic series  for the  ACCE Learning Network.

In this panel session Andrew and myself mostly spoke of the development of our work in ICT and education, which took its base when we were both involved in the music program at North Fitzroy Primary School. It was a music program deeply embedded in the idea that all children are composers and should be given the opportunity to be that. It was a program that focussed on self directed learning, authentic learning, student negotiated curriculum’s, an acknowledgement of student voice and in the end network learning.

ICT was a key link to all that.

Hope you enjoy it.

Blogging from a teachers perspective and from a students perspective.

I am working closely with a number of teachers on blogging in the classroom and how they might embrace this communication technology. There has naturally been some who have embraced the platform while others have initially shown some resistance as they have struggled with both the mechanics of building in a digital space, but more so their uncomfortableness with communicating in this space. Many teachers still feel nervous about being “on show”. There is also the prevailing view from our generation of the “large consequences” of voicing things in the online space. I’m not sure how true that view is.

I have also been working on a term long unit of work with my friend and fellow educator Dan Donahoo. We were working with a group of 30 children aged 11 and the contrasting opinions and use of the digital world has been quite enlightening. The focus of our unit is on game making and it is an exciting and totally engaging unit for these kids.

At the start of the project I quickly built the students a blog to help us communicate with them. As we are only with this class for one hour a week I was looking for a space where they could potentially become involved with the project outside of the classroom and beyond our physical contact hours. Dan and I gave them no instruction on how to use a blog or what we expected of them in this space. Rather we simply gave them the URL and said it was available to them if they wanted to use it.

The subsequent 6 weeks and the way the blog was used by the students was incredibly informative on this generations ability to communicate in the online space.  But beyond that it was quite interesting to note the reasons for their communication how it relates to learning how it is quite different to some of our more traditional practices.

Allow me to give a few examples.

The first night there were 19 comments – this is a class of 25 and shows the ease of which they use this medium. There was little to no evidence of fear of leaving a comment an opinion or asking a question. There was no feeling of “permanency” of their digital imprints leading to a fear of learning from the environment. Something I think we need to consider in our current approaches to “cyber safety”. Maybe its time to stop condemning the young for permanent records of their youth and inexperience. Maybe it is time to embrace a different perspective.

You can note in the picture below that opinion of our class is given (thankfully positive) and information about the subject is freely offered up helping us as educators to get t know our students better.

Screen Shot 2013-11-15 at 2.35.51 PM

Secondly, Dan and I decided to upload a vague plan of where we were heading in the unit – a unit outline. A number of students had read all of the planned work and jumped ahead and started to work at the place they were ready and excited to work at. They were rejecting our linear strategies and rather learning at the point of there own readiness. This really best represents how learning works – it is never linear. Perhaps some of the students had already covered our initial work in other classes or other parts of their life and didn’t require that from our plan. Excellent. Our idea of putting up the whole course content was also to encourage immersion into the work.

Screen Shot 2013-11-15 at 2.37.43 PM

Potentially there would be kids who would so take to this subject that they would like to do it in their own time, to be limited to our system of learning which only involved the one class a week at 2.30 on a Monday afternoon. Thankfully this did prove to be the case and it allowed for us as educators to stretch out and notice how it is important for our planning to be very flexible and dynamic. Kids were moving in directions beyond our planning and we needed to allow for that rather than constrict them to or initial limitations.

Finally the blog was a great place for the children to extend each other and provide each other feedback beyond the ability of Dan and myself to do that. They would upload the games they were making and respond with critique both positive and negative to each others work, they would ask for immediate help and get quick responses rather than waiting for Dan or myself to be the sole assisters in their learning. Below Charlie expresses something he has learnt from his own investigations with the group allowing response from Dan and suggestions on how to move forward.

Screen Shot 2013-11-15 at 2.40.16 PMThe following clip shows evidence of students uploading incomplete work, not afraid of public condemnation of poor work, rather they are uploading it to generate learning – they are looking for advice and subsequently got it from other students, myself and Dan.Screen Shot 2013-11-15 at 2.49.58 PM

One final thing of note, that will hopefully encourage many nervous teachers to jump in. While being one of the main educators involved in a game-making unit I have never created a game in any of the platforms the students chose to create in. I have used many others but not these ones. As a teacher you don’t need to be an expert in software – you need to be able to set up learning environments that allow for a degree of student empowerment allowing you to manage the environment and push the students to go deeper in their inquiries.

Digital literacy, gaming and contemporary narrative writing

What constitutes digital literacies is an interesting topic in contemporary learning environments. When I was teaching in a school I spent much energy trying to convince the “literacy team” that they needed to alter their definition and subsequent approach of literacy to incorporate digital literacies, in this way I was hoping to introduce a more inclusive use of ICT by a method of subterfuge.

At that stage digital literacies was a term that was merely talking about film and early stages of web literacies.

Doug Belshaw an educator who works for Mozilla when trying to answer the question of what constitutes digital literacies recently wrote ;

“My short answer to such a question would be that it is a ‘convenient hypocrisy’. By this I mean that it is a term used ambiguously (both consciously and unconsciously) by people with multitude of different backgrounds and intentions. However, given that it is a term that has entered common parlance, I would hope that this thesis clarifies at least three things. First of all, I have argued that speaking of a plurality of ‘digital literacies’ makes more sense than endless attempts to define ‘one literacy to rule them all’. Secondly, I have suggested the essential elements that should make up any contextualised and emergent definition of digital literacies. Finally, I have attempted to argue that the process of coming up with a definition of what constitutes ‘digital literacies’ is at least as important as the outcome of that process.” http://dmlcentral.net/blog/doug-belshaw/ontology-web-why-i-learned-stop-worrying-and-love-learning-standards

I agree with many of the points Doug raises. The term is now almost undefinable and therefore of so much more importance from an educationalist perspective – particularly to my old literacy team.

If we just talk about films: Peter Greenaway the highly respected British film director recently said that he believed the traditional movie was a dead art form. peter1

It is one based on the narrative structure of the 19th century novel – and this template gets repeated over and over and over again. There has been little to no progression in the format since its beginnings. In this it strongly parallels opera as a story telling devise and a medium of entertainment – it is now viewed as a quant entertainment with sentimental values but of no real importance in regards to its artistic and cultural value.

One of the reasons for this is its inability to adapt rapidly in much the same way as the rest of technology-based art forms have.

For example film is extremely narrative based, generally linear and highly dictatorial in approach – by that I mean it is one way. Everything is imposed upon the audience, from on high. The audience is being told the story, they are told what to think, what to feel, when to cry when to laugh etc. Everything in the movie making process is aimed it this. The music written supports the emotion the director is looking for and further attempts to manipulate the audience into feeling that emotion. The same applies with the lighting, editing, camera angels and so on.

There is no room in for the audience to actively participate in any way rather than just sit and passively go along with what they are being told to do. Now this can be very enjoyable for many people but I would argue that most people have progressed from this form of entertainment/learning and are now looking at the ability to have a say themselves, or be involved in the process.

This is the space that digital games become very, very interesting – especially from a learning perspective.

There are many games that fall into the same category as the traditional movie. The narrative is entirely predetermined and the gamer must merely do as there told, but there are also many games that have moved well away from this.  assasins creed

Games such as L.A Noir or Assassin’s Creed do follow a narrative. The difference is instead of passively watching it unfold; the gamer can become part of it. They adopt a character within the narrative and play out the role, often times being forced to make choices that will influence how the original story plays out – much like a choose your own adventure book but a lot more immersive. Another game that does this and is great for younger kids is Little Big Planet. These narratives or stories are generally very complex and nested within other existing narratives and .can take months to unfold. However there is still a fair amount of control within these games – the settings, places, etc. are all predetermined as they are all set within a particular storyline.

little big planetWhen interviewing a 14 year old boy on why he liked games he said “because I get to choose what I want to do, unlike school where we are constantly told do this or that in games that I play I don’t just have to go a kill everyone to move to the next level, I can decide which way to go, how to deal with it. It’s a lot more fun having a bit of control.” This is also referred to as free roaming within a game. Batman Arkham City is one game that plays in this way – you can do the missions or “simply go in wonder around and play your own thing, play your own story.”

This notion of perceived control is also an interesting one from a teaching perspective. Recently when interviewing a fantastic teacher, Roland Gesthuizen he stated that “ you need to give choice to students but not too much choice…If you give to much choice people inevitably make no choice or the worst one “

To me games using this model are the natural evolution from movies – they have narrative, they have cut scenes using traditional visual techniques but moving on they allow for reediting of the narrative in a controlled fashion.

Beyond that and also of great interest to education is the game that is fully immersive and has almost no predetermined narrative structure. This includes games like Minecraft and Gary’s Mod and to a certain extent Disney’s Infinity..

These games are providing a framework for the player to enter and then leaving it up to the individual’s creativity to do whatever they want.

When recently watching a collection of students playing Gary’s Mod they were collectively interacting and communicating with each other, they were building there own characters, they were inventing there own games within the game and moreso they were inventing their own narrative within the games they were playing – that is narrative within narrative. Look at all the potential literacies learning that could be leveraged off this space.

This is an example of the game makers understanding this generation and providing them with autonomy, the ability to be self-directed and beyond that providing them the ability to be highly web connected. These three concepts are what our education system needs to understand and embrace.

To quote Australian educator –  Richard Olsen  -  How are our education systems to respond to students as autonomous,  self-directed web connected learners?

Solo In Red

A very big thanks to all those who came to Collider’s show at the Melbourne International Jazz Festival. We performed my work Solo In Red and I personally think it was one of thesolo in red dressing room strongest performances we have done of that show. The visuals and the music all synced in the right lace to help create the exact atmosphere the piece requires.

For those of you who are interested, the album of that work is now available on iTunes.

https://itunes.apple.com/au/album/solo-in-red/id648286343

 

I have also uploaded a link to an interview I did on Radio National  talking about the work

http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/booksandartsdaily/solo-in-red3a-music-inspired-by-cormac-mccarthy27s-writing/4739542

Photo taken by Roger Mitchell

Photo taken by Roger Mitchell

IMG_9647