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.

How the learning and teaching is changing

Pedagogy – the art and science of teaching, the method and practice of teaching, an understanding of how humans learn best. This is what educators are interested in.
What has ICT got to do with that.
For too long ICT has been sold to us as an essential with little linking to why. How does it make us learn better?  How does it relate to pedagogy?

When we talk about ICT we need to move beyond the tools. I get sick of hearing one presentation after the other espousing the latest greatest, shrunk down, sped up, oversized, undersized piece of plastic that supposedly will change education forever. It won’t.

Education has never been about what pencils you have in your pencil case it is about people – it is about understanding how we learn. I also get tired of hearing that ICT will make your lessons more engaging – it wont – I’m sure they are already engaging and teachers all know that shiny bells in the corner only maintain engagement for a short time – what are you going to do then?


So why talk about ICT at all? The reason is that the way we learn as humans has fundamentally changed because of the digital world and as educators we need to be aware of that.

Lets quickly look at some of the more exciting current thinking about learning.

Social Learning - For too long in western education there has been the over emphasis on the individual. We see children coming to us as empty vessels that need to be filled by us with whatever information (content) we think is important. This learning is done independent of others.
Rather knowing (or knowledge) is about who you are, what you are doing and it unfolds within a social environment – never independent from it. ICT allows for connections, communities of practice and social learning to occur like never before. How are schools prepared to deal with Social Networks (Facebook, Twitter etc) and utilise them for a new approach to learning? baby

Constructivisim / Experiential Learning – This is not a new theory, its been around for over 100 years, but still many schools regard it as radical. We learn best through experience. The worst way to teach is to stand at the front of the class pass on “content” in a lecture style. If you think you can hold more information than the internet well keep teaching this way – if not lets find new ways. This is not to say that explicit skills based teaching is not at times necessary. But the internet holds many repositories of content and millions of examples of good explicit teaching. For example see the Khan Academy, or just type your question into Google or ask Youtube and someone will have uploaded a video teaching you how to do it. If it is a simple explicit fact that needs to be “learnt” in order to achieve a greater purpose, point the student to a place where they can find it (or better still teach them the strategy to do it so you never have to point them again). This frees you up to provide far deeper experiences for your students to learn. Gaming is one great way to develop experiential learning. Digital games such as Sim City or Civilisation or a host of others can be used to give the students the experience previously unavailable to them. For example in SIM city they experience being a Mayor with all the responsibilities and consequences involved with decisions made. Use it to teach ai Civics and Government Unit. The axiom of experiential learning is “I can teach you about swimming or I can let you go for a swim.” Which one is is the most powerful learning experience. ICT now provides us with potential experiences previously unavailable.

Connectivism – this is a relatively new theory that is entirely relevant to the digital age and in particular, the Internet. It claims that all knowledge is now residing in the online networks. Moving on from experiential learning, Connectivism claims that the world is now moving so fast that we can no longer experience all the things we need to in order to keep up. I’m sure we can all relate to this feeling. Since we cannot experience everything, other people’s experiences, and hence other people, become the surrogate for knowledge. “I store my knowledge in my friends” is an axiom for collecting knowledge through collecting people.

This theory is very relevant for the why and how we would use ICT. You can see evidence for it in Social Media, the use of Nings, Wikis, Blogs and many other devices that help students connect to whatever networks they need to to assist their learning. It is our job as educators to encourage participation in these networks. That includes publishing work, expressing opinions, asking the network questions, commenting, tagging information and sharing it to a networked group such as Diigo and so on. Active participation is the key.

This is what makes ICT so exciting, no longer are students locked in to the reductionist methods of closed classroom doors. Rather there is a whole diverse world to navigate, to collaborate with, to co-create with to learn how to communicate with. Use whatever tool you want but keep this deeper principles in mind.