"Life begins at the end of your comfort zone."

~Neale Donald Walsch~

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Full Immersion

This blog post is some recent thinking I have had in relation to my Masters Degree and is copied from my blog for this subject. 

I have been very slack in writing blog posts this semester and I don't quite know why. Last semester we were really pushed to write posts and I was very excited too however this semester is different. One reason is that I started a new job and have been flat out busy with that but that's not really an excuse because I have been crazy busy before and still managed to post. So it has to be a bit deeper than that. I think there are three reasons that have held me back and I think I need to dig deeper and explore these a little more.

Going underground
Underground Train In Mine, Carts In Gold, Silver And Copper Mine
Image by TTStudio @ bigstockphotos.com
There have been some really major changes to the industry I work in over the last 12 months. There are been times when I have felt overburdened by the enormity of the changes and job insecurity. This has impacted on my creativity and my usual unending supply of exhausting energy. I knew I was a frog in a pot slowly being heated but didn't know how to get out. I needed time to process and I didn't realise that takes time.
I love this course. It has come at the right time in my career. Tim Brown's states, "In times of change we need new alternatives and new ideas." A cross road can provide the opportunity for reflection and an opportunity to veer to a new course. The many and various theories around Design Thinking has so challenged me in the last few weeks I decided to go underground to think, mull and discuss my thinking with my new colleagues. This has provided me the opportunity to challenge how I go about developing new learning opportunities for students in the space available to me.
When I was approached to do this new job I was given a problem. Very loose figures were that 1/3 of the students were not passing the course and I was to be part of the process of fixing it. The Head Teacher didn't know how this would happen but looked at my skill set and he has employed me to assist with the problem. He wants me to think out of the box. With this in mind I turned to Seidel and Fixon (2013, p.20) and found their ideas were a good place to start and structure how I was thinking as a means to work out exactly what the problem was and then develop strategies to work on the problem in order to fix and find a solution.
(1) needfinding, encompassing the definition of a problem or opportunity through observation; (2) brainstorming, a formal framework for ideation; and (3) prototyping, building models to facilitate the development and selection of concepts.
The Design Council was also helpful as they framed their concepts; “Discover the problem; Define the cause; Develop ideas; Deliver what works.” When a problem seems so complex it is difficult to know where to start and the Standford Design School's visual below is also great in being able to visualise the process before you get caught up with all the issues. The colours were an appealing way to break up thinking and these really helped me be disciplined in my thinking and I became very deliberate in the process rather than just trying to work on small individual problems that arose.
Design process

Full immersion
So I decided to fully immerse myself in the culture and processes of my new job. I knew nothing about the Building and Construction Industry so nothing was where I started from. I sat in loads of lessons with lots of different teachers. I had conversations all day long about what was wrong, what was right and how it could change. The conversations were rich and exploratory. According to Braha and Reich (2003), "the design process is characterized by being iterative, exploratory, and sometimes a chaotic process." This is exactly what happened. What came out of some of these conversations were the opportunities for the teachers frustrations to be heard, and these were taken to heart and provided them with a platform to feel the pain and address the heart of the problem. Their feelings were validated. Many said that there was always change in the Industry and that living with constant change is part of the job however there is a cost associated with the great change to their beloved Industry and the consequence of all of this is that it had stifled their creativity. After a few weeks the discussion turned to the heart of the problem and small strategies began to be devised as enthusiasm grew.

The Crisis
After a few weeks I had been working closely with two teachers who had been given the task of working with a group of students who faced unique challenges. We had discussed, strategised and implemented some new teaching strategies and 99% of the group passed the assessment. This feat had never been done before with this group and there was real sense of achievement from the group and the teachers were greatly encouraged.
Hands Of A Woman Squeezing A Stress Ball
Image by Totmn @ bigstockphotos.com
I was thrilled with the result at such an early stage in my work. However it was short lived as I received some news that totally threw me. A permanent teacher from another section needed hours and was after my job. There had been some changes in management in the new section that I work for and they had only just found out about me and weren't necessarily too pleased that I was taking up valuable teaching hours. However I had the support of the new Head Teacher and through very successful maneuvering on his part I was able to stay put for the time being.
This stress caused me to really evaluate what I was doing there and what my goals and aims were for the job. It forced me to sit down and put together a proposal or a plan for what I could contribute as an innovator to the section. This was a true moment of clarity for me.

An awakening
I was powerfully influenced by John Hockenberry's video about the intent of design and this steered my thinking in new directions as I was put on a new class. The word 'innovation' gets bandied around a lot and whilst I had my own understanding of it I hadn't really grasped the full extent of it until I watched Linda Hill's TED Talk on Innovation and I have come to a new realisation that the process of innovation doesn't happen over night but it is deliberate and requires risk and whole lot more!

Design thinking has kept me grounded and assisted with keeping my focus on what's important in this new venture and I'm excited and where it will take me. Having opportunity for leadership in this male dominated industry has been challenging yet so rewarding. Men who work on building sites are used to being a team player and my colleagues couldn't be more supportive. With a re-energised team and the opportunity to push new ground in teaching delivery it's very exciting. Watch this space!
Braha and Reich 2003. In Razzouk, R., & Shute, V. (2012). What is design thinking and why is it important? Review of Educational Research, September, 82 (3), 330–348. http://rer.sagepub.com.ezproxy.csu.edu.au/content/82/4/483.full.pdf+html
Brown, T (2009, July). Designers- Think big! [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/tim_brown_urges_designers_to_think_big 
Gardiner, E. (2013). Changing behaviour by design: Combining behavioural science with design-thinking to help organisations tackle big social issues. Design Council & Warwick Business School. Retrieved from:https://www.designcouncil.org.uk/sites/default/files/asset/document/Changing%20behaviour%20by% 20design.pdf p.5
Hill, L (2014, September). How to manage for collective creativity [Video File] Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/linda_hill_how_to_manage_for_collective_creativity 
Hockenberry, J (2012, March). John Hockenberry: We are all designers [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/john_hockenberry_we_are_all_designers?language=en#t-5489 
Seidel, V., & Fixson, S. (2013). Adopting design thinking in novice multidisciplinary teams: The application and limits of design methods and reflexive practices. Journal of Product Innovation Management, 30, 19–33.http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/jpim.12061 or http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com.ezproxy.csu.edu.au/doi/10.1111/jpim.12061/pdf

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Getting on with it

The last week has been crazy and awesome at the ISTE Conference in Philadelphia. I was so excited to deliver my presentation on Gaming and Socratic thinking. My talk focused on the pedagogy behind gaming and why it is so important to get the planning right so that learning can be fun, critical and creative. We want our students to gain skills to be masters of their own learning. My presentation was really well received and I had some great conversations about it after. I have been asked to speak at another conference in the UK in October and hope I can get the finances together to go. I want to break up this post into common themes in conversations that I had and my takeaways from the conference that I need to implement. 

Conversation theme 1: Tech tools
Tools are great but you need to the pedagogy and the reasoning behind the tool before you use it. There seemed to me to be a lot about Google Apps and tools and not so much about the pedagogy and application. The tools have been around for some time now and they aren't new anymore. There was very little there that I hadn't seen before or that I don't already use in the classroom and so this says to me that Aussie's are really on top of what is going on in Edu tech.  

Conversation theme 2: Assessment

Around there world educators are drowning in assessment reporting and standardised testing and this time is taking away from really creative and innovative teaching. Administration is taking over our lives and teacher's are resenting the negative impact this is having on students. There needs to be accountability but trying to fit every one in the same box isn't really working. The assessments aren't necessarily helping students to become autonomous in their learning nor masters of their own learning style and skills. These standardised tests are a reflection not of the current digital age but of those concepts that were important in an industrialised age not an information society. 

Conversation theme 3: Confidence in digital spaces
The whole conference was about education and technology but there were many conversations about the skills needed for students to cope in a digital age. It is clear that there is a widening gap concerning those who have access to technology and those who don't. There was also a lot of chatter about the importance of having parents on board and being able to provide them with information about the fun learning opportunities that their kids were having at school. 

Takeaway 1: Have fun

There have been times this term when I have been really bogged down in paperwork. The new admin system at work is not functioning like it should and it has taken up a lot of time to get things fixed. 
This has impacted on my time to be creative and I feel that has always been key to how I teach and I haven't been having fun. Al Doyle has a great motto which is that he needs to be having more fun that everyone else in the room. If the teacher isn't have fun then how can we expect our learners to enjoy learning. 

Takeaway 2: Gamify

There are ways that I can incorporate more gamification and game design in teaching and learning and I need to step up more with this. There are so many tools and even in an adult learning environment they can be incorporated. 

Takeaway 3: Collaboration
I really enjoyed the session on Mystery Skype. I love the idea that you can connect with other teachers and the class has to work out where they are in the world. I really would like to connect with other TPC classes around the state and this would be a great way of doing this. Working together makes life so much easier and richer. 

Takeaway 4: Augmented Reality

I loved the session on Augmented Reality and didn't realise that it is such a growing field. My new party trick is the app Zookazam. You do need an American $1 bill or you can print background triggers from their website. If you are really clever you can move the elephant from the bill onto your hand. The elephant moves and looks around. If you touch it the elephant will move. So much fun to be had there. 

With information overload I know I will be thinking over and over things and going back over sessions in the coming weeks. Just before I left the conference I wrote an email to my self using Future.org and will receive it a year from now. I wonder if I will have accomplished what I set out to do from the conference. Interesting. 

Anyway I hope all my Aussie teacher friends are enjoying their holidays. Safe travels. 

Until next time,

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Looking through a different lens

This is a blog post from the blog I have been using to reflect on my learning for my Masters Degree. 

I live in a 'geeky' household. I was chatting to my Mr13 in the house the other day and I was telling him about Teach Meet. At the moment I have a year 12 student who has been doing the live streaming for the event each year. I said to him it would be great if I could ask him to train my Mr13 in case Mr Year 12 student went off to uni in Sydney and I lost those skills and would have no one to live stream for me. (I clearly don't have the time or the inclination to learn such detailed coding.) So we were chatting about it and he said wouldn't it be cool if the people who couldn't make Teach Meet that night were able to use Hololens to join in. He said wouldn't it be cool if they signed up for teach meet and you sent them some Hololens glasses ( a little less chunky than the ones in the video below. A bit more like the 3D glasses you get at the movies )or they had some and just had to sign in or something like that and they would completely feel like they were there on the night. The people at home would be able to interact with the event on the night in a much more engaging way.

Whilst he is only 13 he is thinking in a connected way. Thinking about how to use technology to bring people together. Who knows in the future holograms of people might be virtually sitting in the lecture theatre projected from their lounge at home. Beethan (2009) talks about the need for future learners to be digital entrepreneurs and I can see that students these days naturally think about creative and innovative ways to use technology that will benefit not only themselves but the broader community of learners. A few years ago I began to follow the work of Alex Miller from North Coast Institute of TAFE and her virtual classroom.

De Frietas and Colone (2010) talks about the need for students to be part of 'participatory learners' and virtual classrooms begins to address this concept but also aligns with Rheingold's view that human interaction is still an important part of learning. It seems as though some learners are happy to be in a space where the connection is somewhat distant (blog, social media, texting) from an actual face to face interaction with a physical human however technology is really pushing for meaningful connectedness and virtual or holographic learning may be a norm in the future. It's a little science fiction but the reality is that the technology is already here.

Creating creative content has been around since the onset of video games and if you want to see the development of creativity in this field you can't go past looking at Project Spark. Mr13 has been a BETA tester for Microsoft with this project and he has had a real ball creating his own video games. Mr13 is creating, problems solving, using various modes of digital literacy, story telling, maths, spacial awareness and the list goes on. Looking at life through Mr13 is a different lens to that are Mrs near 40.

It seems that learning is not all about the cool technology tools but the teenagers of today are pushing for a different way to learn in a space that is pedagogically modern and relevant to the jobs skills needed in the future.


G. Conole, Designing for learning in an open world. New York, NY: Springer. Available as ebook from CSU library.
Conole, G. (2012). Open, social and participatory media, Chapter 4. In G. Conole, Designing for learning in an open world. New York, NY: Springer. Available as ebook from CSU library.
Microsoft Corporation (2013), Project Spark, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m37sVEgJrOA
North Coast Institute TAFE (2015), Virtually Hyperconnected, https://www.facebook.com/virtuallyhyperconnected/timeline
Rheingold, H (2014) Network Awareness, https://vimeo.com/86182564

Monday, 6 April 2015

Do video games make you violent?

Just this week one of my students presented a talk about video game violence. For some reason it has been mulling around in my head all week. I am a parent like millions of others in the world and I am trying to guide my kids through this scary crazy world like anyone else. Sometimes I feel like I'm the only one who won't let me them play 'those' games and it's not that I don't want my kids to fit in, it's that I strongly feel that these games are not giving benefit to my children in their childhood and as I love them dearly I wouldn't want to expose them to violence unnecessarily. However I shouldn't base my views on a hunch. I think I need to do a little research.

There has been some research to suggest that there are some real benefits for kids when they play video games. You only have to listen to Daphne Bavelier's TED talk on how the brain can be retrained by video games. Randy Dotinga from CBS also supports the idea that there can be some benefits from playing video games.  It can assist with concentration, problems solving, attention to name a few. However I just can't ignore the fact that there are alternate views to this topic. A Singaporean study found that children who play video games for long periods are more aggressive. There has been strong evidence to suggest that many of the school shootings in the USA are linked to students who have been bullied and isolated and have played violent video games before they committed the crime. It seems that there is a desensitization to these games and students blur the physical world to the make believe world of the game. 

There was great discussion in the class about what age should kids play these games. Two students who had children aged 7 and 5 let their kids play Grand Theft Auto 5 and Call of Duty. Their main stipulation was that they could play Grand Theft Auto with their dad but they weren't allowed to go into the strip club. I was a bit taken aback as I know these games have adult ratings. However these parents said that their kids know it's just a game. I argued differently and we agreed to disagree but it's was very obvious to me that in the class there were very different views about who can play the games, at what age and whether or not there are aspects of the game that are socially deplorable or just seen in the realm of 'pretend'. 

I found these two articles quite helpful and insightful.  

  • Mark Dapin states that video games can help boys understand manhood. Lydiard also
    Image @ Negative Effects of Video games
    states that "I know if I play a war game, I can't go shooting people on the street," says Lydiard, "because, first of all, I'm not a soldier. If I'm playing a soldier in a game, it's not like I'm going to go down to Kmart and buy an M-16 - which I can't - put on an undetectable outfit, hide up in the bushes and then ambush a bunch of pedestrians. It's ridiculous to think a normal person would think that's something they should do after playing a game."
  • Tim Biggs goes as far as saying that Video game violence and the over sexualisation of women can lead to domestic violence. 
Both these writer's present a view I am familiar with and adhere to however I know that perhaps my conservative views are not always shared by those around me. I suppose all things need to be done in moderation and playing video games 12 hours a day is not moderation. Kids need to play video games because it is a normal part of their own generational culture and can provide an outlet for fun and play but for now I want to steer my kids away from violent video games to ones where there is more creativity involved. 

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Stuck Getting Started

This week I have noticed that my students have had some trouble just starting.

When there are a number of students in the room that struggle to start it can be quite difficult to race around and speak to everyone. After all there is only 1 of you. However you may be able to try a few strategies.
Image from bigstockphotos.com

What do you already know?
Often students don't think they know anything on a topic when in fact they really do. A set of general questions might help the grey matter get moving and be a prompt to have a place to start.

What don't you know?
Similarly sometimes when students are overwhlmed they just say, " I don't know anything." This always needs to be followed by a series of questions. Exactly what is it that you don't know? How can we go about finding out about it? Who else might know something about it? Supporting students using higher thinking questions can also assist in prompting them to begin to think about their topic.

Give an example
More often than not I always give an example. Students need a place to start or at the very least some idea of what is expected. The difficulty sometimes is getting the less able students to not copy word for word the example that is given but to ask them to use the structure and their own words to respond to the topic or instruction.

Pair up with someone
Pair the student up with a more able student who does now how to start. It's hard to get around to everyone so use your able students to encourage and assist others. However make sure that even though they might be helping someone they don't feel as though you are neglecting to speak to them about their work because they have been busy helping others.

Provide some prompting questions
Asking good questions will always lead to further thinking of ideas and strategies. Even though who, how, what, why, when and where are a good place to start the 5 whys can be a way of digging a little deeper. If you have a problem you are trying to work out then ask at least 5 why questions to get the student thinking.

Provide a very structured outline
Providing a rubric they can complete is a great way to start thinking. There are many ways to record your initial ideas and thoughts however with many different learning styles in one class it can be tricky. Some learners like to use mind maps and others like to make lists. It's important not to constantly force learning tools on students that they don't like to use. Having options for initial thinking gives the learner choice and gives them confidence in their own learning style and ability.

These are a few strategies I used this week to help students begin to research a topic for an oral presentation.

Here is the template I gave to my students as they began to think about their topic and where they could start their research.

Please let me know if you use some other strategies.

Until next week,

Friday, 30 January 2015

Are you digitally enhanced?

Image @ bigstockphotos.com
Have you ever used Photoshop or photo editing software to digitally enhance a selfie or photo of yourself? It almost seems like we are part of the generation of 'fake'. It's hard to know whether or not images, videos and information is real and genuine. However in an information obsessed world there is no denying that information technology in schools is now part of everyday life. It is embedded in the curriculum and there is an underlying assumption by the consumer (the students) that technology will be part of any course that is taught from 2 years to 99 years. Technology is part of everyday life and if teachers are not digitally enhanced or skilled in using technology then the quality and teaching standards will by and large be affected.

Innovating Pedagogy

If you are going to innovate using technology then there has to be an understanding as to why you are going to to do it. Pedagogy has changed and developed over many years and will continue to do so. As it should. There will be those elements of pedagogy that remain the same however it is the developing research and discussion that most excites education junkies as we seek to push new boundaries of learning, student engagement and success. The 3rd Open University Report into Innovative Pedagogy highlights these trends in technology and student learning and lays out a strong basis for the change in classroom practice to meet the demand of the current generation but also to consider the future needs of students and skills required for a technology skilled workforce of the future.

As an education junkie myself the challenge for me often lies in considering what is going on in
Image @ bigstockphotos.com
schools and can some of these elements be moved to andragogy practices when I am teaching adults. Often they can but my greatest challenge with mature aged learners is their experience using technology. There is a huge range of experiences with technology in my classes and trying to find the balance of using technology to enhance learning rather than causing a stumbling block is one I spend much time trying to get the balance right. In one of my classes they can range in age from 16 - 70. In fact in the last two years I have had classes with this exact scenario. Younger students by and large can't get enough of the opportunity to use technology however in the same class you have more mature aged students who find the whole process frustrating and a waste of time.

It is through providing opportunities, much support and encouragement that will win at the end of the day. There is less fear these days that you can't break technology just be clicking then there was 20 or even 10 years ago. The use of technology has to be phrased in an adult learning environment as conducive and meaningful to not only the learning experience but also the outcome and is shown to be of further use when applied to a variety of situations and circumstances. An example of this would be Google Docs. Having shown my students how to use them they can use the same skill in other subjects and also continue to use them outside of study and for life. The practical use and relevance is important to adult learners and they don't want to learn technology if it is going to never be used or is a waste of time.

How can you become digitally enhanced? 

Be open to experiment and fail. Using twitter and reading blog posts are some of the easiest ways to get ideas on what you can use in your classroom. (Judy O'Connell's blog is excellent!) Many academic journals (for example;English Teachers Association) are great places to find the latest research on the use of Innovative Technology but also you will find many practical tips from other teachers on what has worked in their classrooms. The joy of experimenting is not only for students and I know I have enjoyed experimenting on my students using technology over the years.

Time to share your selfie

Sharing in your success or failures is something we expect of our students but don't necessarily practice ourselves. Join a Twitter chat and listen to what others are doing in their classrooms and join the conversation around your own classroom practices.

Until next week's musing....


Thursday, 11 December 2014

Moving beyond hurt

I admit not only have a I been totally overwhelmed by life in the last 6 weeks but I have had a bit of writer's block. There have been moments when I have started a new post only to sit there and stare at a blank page. Mentally exhausted and emotionally spent.  The last semester has been the most rewarding and most challenging I think of my career. There has been truly powerful moments and realisations with students that has deeply moved me. The ability to truly teach in a creative capacity allowed me to push myself harder than ever before, to see what I was capable of. I was truly chuffed to receive a nomination for an Excellence in Teaching Award for Hunter TAFE and whilst I didn't win the acknowledgement has provided some reflection on my part.

What is it that drove me to drive my students harder than ever to succeed? 

There has been many times in my life when others have told me that I would never amount to
Image from  Bigstockphotos.com
anything. I was average and mediocre at best as a teacher. Never was this more difficult than in the last school I taught at and so profoundly did one Head Teacher's negative long term harassment and bullying impact on me that I never want to teach in schools again. TAFE provided a safe place to heal and my amazing head teacher gave me the opportunity to really teach in a creative and innovative way, very different from others in my section and as a result the students have achieved outstanding results and will get into the university courses of their choice.  There have been volumes and volumes of people who have written on this topic and I join the chorus. Really negative experiences in life produced a drive in me to not only prove them wrong but also prove to myself that I could do it too.

Some students that come to TAFE have the same story. Broken people who are wanting to put the pieces back together. The outcome of success comes not in being given everything on a silver spoon but through genuine achievement found in hard work, perseverance and a desire to improve oneself. Being connected with others is profoundly important to success. Having a team or friendship group that not only values you as a person but is also happy to conjole, push and stretch you can produce a more significant result than if you are going it alone.
Henry Ward Beecher a 19th Century American Congressmen who fought for human rights and the continued abolition of slavery sums it up nicely. “We should not judge people by their peak of excellence; but by the distance they have travelled from the point where they started.” 
 Moving beyond hurt

Working and interacting with people day in day out puts teachers in line for criticism and analysis of their work. Maintaining professionalism when that criticism has no founding is hard. It's hard to not to be really affected but it can't define you as a professional. Some criticism can be warranted and helpful for growth however truly negative and truly personal criticism can be soul destroying.

There will always be bullies. These behaviours are passed down from one generation to the next or are reinforced by social groups and peers who wish to have power over others. I can't be defined by this any longer.

Not all students will pass all the time. I am not oblivious to that fact. Learning is never wasted. My journey is by no means over but I draw in the strength of past hurts to move on and as a result have more confidence in my abilities to teach and assist students than ever before.

Getting over life's hurdles can produce real growth and success.

Many of the struggles that adults have come from their early childhood, primary and teen years.

Anti-bullying songs and campaigns need to continue in work places as much as schools to continue to discuss the importance of respect and tolerance in our society. With high rates of domestic violence in our society it is imperative that we continue as a society to speak for what is right and then of course to act and model the right behaviour to our kids and our peers.

  1. Image from  Bigstockphotos.com
    The Report estimated that workplace bullying costs the Australian economy between $6 billion and $36 billion every year and that a workplace bullying cases costs employers an average of $17,000 to $24,000 per claim. Fair Work Act 2009

The social and financial cost to our community is great. I have struggled this year with over coming past hurts but at no time did I ever register a claim or take time off. How many others are part of an unknown statistic?

Anyway it's time to move on and I have some very exciting changes for next year. I have enrolled in my Masters of Education (Knowledge Networks and Digital Innovation) with Charles Sturt University and am also hoping to finish my Diploma in Adult Language, Literacy and Numeracy Practices.  I am continuing to work at TAFE but have cut right back in the hope of pursuing my business in a more significant way. I'm also going to do some work for my local community college and who knows what else I'll pick up. The future is bright and I'm excited for what lies ahead.

Thanks to you all for reading my blog and I wish you and your families a Merry Christmas and safe and happy holiday.

Until next time,