Teacher as co-learner and other arguments about knowledge

“There are times in life when the question of knowing if one can think differently than one thinks and perceive differently than one sees is absolutely necessary if one is to go on looking and reflecting at all” M Foucault

In my line of work (my day job) i am involved with education and it’s relationship with technology. This work sees me in schools, universities and other places of institutionalised learning operating as a consultant, assisting them to come to grips with the challenges technology is posing to existing structures and it’s potential to change the way we teach and learn. The core of my work is centred in epistemology – the study of knowledge – and its relationship with the internet. When I present I often speak of what knowledge is, where it resides, and what are the implications for teacher practice.  I often get some very strong reactions from teachers. My opening statement generally goes along the lines of, “knowledge never reside in the individual, it resides in the network.”

By this I mean that knowledge is not a tangible thing that can be transfered from one individual to another, in fact knowledge resides in the relationships, it is built up within the  discourse (language or practice). While objects might physically exists outside of these discourses any attempt to make sense of them is through discourse which is socially developed. Yet our education system with its practices related to curriculum and assessment of the individual, amongst other things, so often reflects a lack of understanding of this thinking. Many of you are familiar with the phrase ‘teacher as facilitator rather than teacher as expert’. When we talk of ‘teachers as facilitators’ (or even co-learners) not as experts we are talking in this area, we are demonstrating an understanding and belief of learning that is framed within a participatory culture. By enabling that we are acknowledging that it is only through participation in the networks that any connection with knowledge is able to happen. While the term and concept of “teacher as facilitator rather than expert”  is a concept that is familiar to many of us, it is still something extremely difficult to do and I see very little evidence of it being enacted  within many of classrooms. I often think that it is to hard to make this change because of the predetermined sense of identity built up by the discourse of the institutions that govern the concept of a “teacher/student” Below is a very typical argument a teacher will throw at me at conferences, or online, or during PD sessions when I start to talk about such matters. I am making no judgement of the argument because it took me a long time to understand this fairly abstract concept, and argument is a form of active participation in the discourse. This discussion took place on a friend of mines Google + account and I have added the screen shots.

A teachers response to a bog post I had written
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My reply

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His reply to meScreen Shot 2014-07-28 at 9.10.02 am My replyScreen Shot 2014-07-28 at 9.10.17 am Screen Shot 2014-07-28 at 9.10.30 amUnfortunately he never responded. As educators I think It is paramount that we talk about these ideas, isn’t the concept of knowledge development central to our role? Furthermore the conclusions we collectively reach will have huge implications for how we do this thing called “teaching”.

What do you think?

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/

 

 

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.

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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.

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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

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Handwriting in High Schools

A young boy I l know (who has just started high school) has been given homework every week that requires him to write an essay/story. The requirments are it must be exactly 400 words and it has to be hand written.

He is not allowed to type it – therefore he is not allowed to use a computer. His whole primary school experience has been working in Google Docs, thus developing his typing skills but more that that learning how to develop writing in a collaborative fashion and potentially co-creating characters, plot lines etc. The only logic for the current practice is that they are preparing him with the correct skills required to pass an exam called the VCE which he will sit in 6 years time. Can anyone else see the problems that might exist within this logic?

On a slightly different tact but still around hand writing perhaps hand writing should be moved from literacy and into the arts – similar to when you go to an Old Timey Theme Park such as Sovereign Hill and you marvel at the Old Timey Writing and how beautiful it is and they offer you a class to learn how – which you take in the same mindset as any other craft class you might consider.

Now why it is necessary to learn the skill of writing exactly to the word count? Well I guess we can take this question all the way up to every degree, masters or PHD document that is required to successfully complete a University course. And why do we so inherently trust words to express ideas anyway? What if they were able to sing a song in their exam, create an animation oh the list is endless.