Monthly Archives: April 2009

A Sci-Fi feast for the eyes


Am I superficial if I have a weakness for book covers? I love the art/graphic design enveloping the story. Yes, I will choose a book by its cover. Yes, I buy magazines for their visual beauty. So, feast your eyes on Penguin UK’s gallery of science fiction book covers.

Particularly pleasing is the real art on the covers by artists such as Max Ernst, Paul Klee, Yves Tanguy, Wassily Kandinsky and others. Of course, you can get a cover designed by Joan Miro, or you can get a section of magnified finger skin.


Maybe I’ll do some reading…

Thanks to Articulate.

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Filed under art, Literature

We want dot-points


Thanks to cogdogblog for the photo.

My older son has started university this year. His core subjects are Psychology and Politics, and Logic is one of his breadth subjects. Today he was telling me that some of the students in one of his Psychology classes were complaining about a particular lecturer. They thought he was too vague. What did they mean by ‘too vague’? The lecturer gave them material to read, but he didn’t specify what exactly they were supposed to learn, he didn’t give them dot points, and he didn’t make it clear what they needed for the assessment task or exam.

In other words, he expected them to read and think for themselves, to learn instead of just memorising dot points to satisfy exam criteria. According to my son, his lectures were more about making students think about things. eg. in a lecture about sensation and perception he might present an example that encouraged students to reconsider the way they perceived things, to deconstruct how they perceived reality.

What is going on in our education system that produces such an attitude to learning ?

Of course, this is a complex question which cannot be answered simply but, in my opinion, this is the result of teaching to the test, of putting all the pressure onto a final mark, an ENTER, which will allow access into a university course, which, in turn, will provide students with a job. Nothing wrong with employment. Nothing wrong with wanting further education. What is wrong, then?

The lamentable thing here is that academic success is based on performance which is made up of mastering discrete chunks of information. Why? In order to pass the assessment task or test. What is missing here is the desire to learn something because it’s interesting, because a deeper understanding enriches your life. What is also missing is the thinking behind the learning, the ability to independently read and understand, construct meaning, evaluate information, solve problems and construct creative solutions.

If students at tertiary level claim they cannot learn without the summaries or the dot points, then shouldn’t we reassess what we are teaching them? Shouldn’t we consider which skills are most important to them in their lives?

These students compared two lecturers: the one who frustrated them with the open-ended teaching method, and the one they preferred, who provided dot-point summaries, and provided notes, telling them that this was all they needed to know for the exam, and anything else they didn’t need to worry about.

My son liked the unpopular lecturer’s teaching style because it was more philosophical, more interesting because it required higher order thinking.  He said that it wasn’t the case that this lecturer would include in the exam things they hadn’t covered, it’s just that he didn’t present his information in pre-digested chunks.

What do other educators think about this? Do you see this as an isolated or general problem? What do you think are the most important skills students should leave school with? Are we preparing our students for their future world?

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Filed under Education, learning, teaching

Teaching – what’s it all about?


I’ve been reflecting about teaching – you know, the existential part – what’s it all about, what are our essential aims as teachers, how do we connect to students individually and as a group to engage and stimulate meaningful and creative learning? The usual.

Often I think about how I learn. I imagine myself as the student sitting in the classroom listening to the teacher and participating in the lesson. It’s easy for me to do this when I’m teaching collaboratively, and I can do that as a teacher librarian. The beauty of coming into a class as a teacher librarian is that I’m not the principal driver, and so I have a certain distance conducive to reflection which can be very satisfying. It’s not unusual to experience a cloud of ideas during the lesson, although these are not always fully formed ideas as much as reactions and hunches. More challenging is taking the time to record these ideas, reflect on them, and come up with planned solutions.

The one class that I teach collaboratively on a regular basis is an English class with possibly one of the best teachers I have met. This teacher’s leitmotif and driving conviction is ‘It’s not about what you teach them, it’s the connections you make’. Absolutely. If you don’t connect to the student, they haven’t picked up. If they haven’t picked up, they’re not going to hear anything you say. And once they pick up, they need to want to stay on that line. And that’s all about a personal connection. The teacher I’m referring to makes the positive connection with each individual student, and then goes on to create the group connection. This really is the best learning scenario – a student who’s happy with the relationship with his/her teacher, feeling accepted, acknowledged, liked, respected, and also confident as an accepted member of the class. This is where learning can take place. If you look into a classroom you can immediately see where this is happpening and where it is not. We’ve all seen it before: the class where students look distracted, bored, all looking in different directions, eyes switched off, and the class where facial expressions are turned on, students are bursting to contribute, focussed discussion or activity is taking place.

It is the affective domain that may be overlooked in teaching. It’s easily done; you have the curriculum content to cover, and you focus on delivering the material while keeping the class in order. It would be good to take a look at Blooms affective taxonomy, and I’m going to re-blog Kent Manning’s excellent post for this purpose.

Most educators are familiar with the traditional Bloom’s Taxonomy, but what I didn’t know, or had forgotten from my EDUC 101 days is that Mr. Bloom developed a taxonomy for the affective domain as well.

Let me explain.

Our school district has a “Growing with Character” system goal so when I happened upon Bloom’s Taxonomy of Affective “Transformation” it caught my eye.

It goes like this:

Level 5: Internalizing Values

Character acts on value systems as an individual, rather than in response to group expectations; uses teamwork effectively, values others for their intrinsic merit rather than external qualities.

Level 4: Organization

Character prioritizes values, resolves conflicts, develops personalized value system; balances freedom and responsibility and accepts standards of moral behavior.

Level 3: Valuing

Character demonstrates belief in a value system that manifests itself in solving problems for others and in valuing cultural and individual differences.

Level 2: Responding to Phenomena

Character participates in solutions, works with a team, helps others.

Level 1: Receiving Phenomena

Character listens to others respectfully.

Source: Bloom, Krathwohl, & Masia, 1964.


The dominant words in Bloom’s affective taxonomy are ‘values’ and ‘valuing’. With citizenship as the focus, the real learning takes place not within the facts and information themselves, but in the evaluation of these facts. We’re teaching the students as people and future citizens of the adult world, more than we are teaching information.

As always, I value people’s comments and look forward to hearing from you.

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Filed under 21st century learning, Education, teachers, teaching

Vision of the future – Are you ready?

Have you given nanotechnology any serious thought?  Have a look at this video by Karsten Staack, The 21st Century: What will it look like?


What are your thoughts? Are you excited/afraid of the future? Don’t be. It’s not for you, it’s for the next generation.

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Filed under 21st century learning, Education

Google image search on the fly

Google’s new experimental Similar Images feature in Google Labs has improved image searching with the addition of ‘similar images’, allowing you to narrow your search and change your mind on the fly. Have a look here. It’s in its experimental stages.

I searched ‘school’ and, predictably, got all types of ‘school’ images.



What I specifically wanted was images of classroom interiors so I clicked on ‘similar images’ under the one result.


I think this is an easy way to get rid of unwanted results and refine your search.

What do you think?


Filed under 21st century learning, internet, technology

TED talks wiki

If you enjoy TED talks on video, feast your eyes on the TED talks wiki, which is like a cornucopia of TED, an overabundance of these tantalising talks.  Getting through these all might take you – lets see, say about …. a year!

The talks are searchable by speaker, or you can search by first name of speaker alphabetically.

Since I’ve just blogged about Howard Rheingold, I thought I’d use him as an example of the quality of these talks. His talk, Way-new collaboration, is about the coming world of collaboration, participatory media and collective action — and how Wikipedia is really an outgrowth of our natural human instinct to work as a group.

The TED talks site also gives you a summary of the speaker’s biography as well as a link to more details. Here is Howard Rheingold’s bio:

Writer, artist and designer, theorist and community builder, Howard Rheingold is one of the driving minds behind our net-enabled, open, collaborative life.  

The site also lists other talks in the series or on the same theme, as well as related theme, and related tags. Altogether, it’s an excellent way to hear experts and inspirational speakers talk about a large variety of topics. It’s also an excellent way to discover interesting people. It’s easy to keep up with the latest talks; you can subscribe to the TED newsletter, or subscribe to RSS feeds.

It’s wonderful how much variety there is within a theme. Tales of invention includes the following topics and more:

Legendary designer Philippe Starck‘s lively ruminations on his own creative process suggest how the patterns of a civilization might affect, say, the design of a citrus juicer. Jan Chipchase investigates the worldwide impact of mobile phones — and the impact of culture on next-generation mobile technology. Explorer and adventurer Bill Stone, meanwhile, fires up a rapt audience with his ambitious plan to harvest energy from the moon.

Copyright lawyer Larry Lessig gives a brief history of creative freedom and copyright, and talks about how contemporary copyright law could strangle future artistic invention and interpretation. William Kamkwamba tells how he built a windmill from scrap metal when he was 14 years old. And Amy Smith shares her transformative low-tech tools for saving life in the developing world.

As usual, the comments are an interesting continuation of the conversation.

I’ll leave you with Larry Lessig, one of our foremost authorities on copyright issues, with a vision for reconciling creative freedom with marketplace competition.

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Filed under 21st century learning

Teaching 21st century literacies

Howard Rheingold  has written an article for City Brights on 21st century literacies.  His opening paragraph asks essential questions for the future (and present) of education:

Will our grandchildren century grow up knowing how to pluck the answer to any question out of the air, summon their social networks to assist them personally or professionally, organize political movements and markets online? Will they collaborate to solve problems, participate in online discussions as a form of civic engagement, share and teach and learn to their benefit and that of everyone else? Or will they grow up knowing that the online world is a bewildering puzzle to which they have few clues, a dangerous neighborhood where their identities can be stolen, a morass of spam and porn, misinformation and disinformation, urban legends, hoaxes, and scams?

And here in a nutshell is the definition for 21st century literacies in plain English. What concerns me, and many others, is that the shift from traditional literacy to these 21st century literacies is not occurring in schools on any significant scale. An understanding of the critical need for a focus on these literacies isn’t happening from the top down, nor from the bottom up. And it’s not going to happen unless we, educators, step out of our teaching role and immerse ourselves in the 21st world as learners.

As far as I know, on the whole Australian schools still view online involvement for students as ‘a dangerous neighborhood where their identities can be stolen, a morass of spam and porn, misinformation and disinformation, urban legends, hoaxes, and scams?’ This is part of the reason for inaccessibility and filtering; for the rules prohibiting the use of online games and mobile phones at school. We talk about integrating technologies into the curriculum, but we still view these technologies as the enemy.

Perhaps many of us are uncomfortable about using new technology. We figure our students are naturals, that they’ll figure out the technology thing by themselves, better without us. Howard Rheingold questions the term ‘digital natives’ applied to our students:

Just because your teens Facebook, IM, and Youtube, don’t assume they know the rhetoric of blogging, collective knowledge gathering techniques of taggers and social bookmarkers, collaborative norms of wiki work, how to tune and feed a Twitter network, the art of multimedia argumentation – and, by far most importantly, online crap detection.

Rheingold makes it very clear how urgent it is for our students to be educated in 21st century literacies:

If you think that forgetting to teach your kids the facts of life is dangerous, wait until you witness the collision of a global superempowered infrastructure with a population of illiterate users.

There’s no mincing of words. According to Rheingold, our students will be illiterate if we don’t redefine our concept of literacy. What literacies are we teaching our students at present? Are these in line with the world in which they will live and work? We may not like digital media as much as our students, but isn’t our job as educators preparing them for their future? Their future is digital, global and networked. Digital literacy is not so much about the mechanics of digital tools; it is much more than that:

The most important critical uncertainty today is how many of us learn to use digital media and networks effectively, reasonably, credibly, collaboratively, civilly, humanely.

One of the commenters identifies the importance of teaching critical reading skills. Howard adds that ‘some, perhaps many, view critical thinking as a frivolous distraction from “the basics”… Others say that there is nothing new about this requirement’.  For teacher librarians, teaching critical reading and critical thinking has been part of their role for some time. As a teacher librarian,I find this problematic –  not the fact that we are delegated this teaching role, since we are ‘information specialists’, and our role must evolve in line with developments in the world of information – but that this teaching is seen as somehow separate from ‘the real curriculum’, that we come in for one lesson or two at most, and teach ‘information skills’ as discrete skills. We all know that this doesn’t work, that the integration of critical, digital literacies must be integrated fully in everyday teaching, and that curricular material must be selected with this teaching aim in mind. Our choice of medium must support the teaching of these literacies. If we use blogs, wikis or nings, it is not because we are ticking off our use of Web 2.0 technologies for the sake of being recognised as Web 2.0 savvy, it’s because we recognise that a networked learning  environment is the best way to prepare our students for their future. If we teach our senior students to critically evaluate newspaper articles and advertisements, shouldn’t we finally take the leap to teaching them the skills they need to navigate the deluge of online information?  They’re not reading editorials as much as they’re watching YouTube videos. Will they continue to get their news from newspapers? Or will they prefer real-time, real-people news reports on Twitter?

What are your thoughts? Let’s have a discussion.

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Filed under 21st century learning, Education, internet, network literacy, teaching, technology, Web 2.0

Stephen Downes in Melbourne


Why did I go to a professional event on the first day of my Easter holidays? Two words: Stephen Downes.

Stephen started by prompting reflection:

Reflect on how you learn in your job today?
How do you learn to use new technology and keep up with events and announcements? How do you learn new policies and procedures?

Then he made an interesting, perhaps controversial, comment. He said
there’s a distinction between the way we learn and the way learning is taking place in universities, etc.

What does that mean?

As I’ve mentioned earlier, my first-year uni son has confirmed for me that he learns in the same way that I did 30 years ago. Lectures and tutorials. Online forum? No. Sharing notes in Google docs? No. Creation of personal learning network using RSS, Delicious or Diigo, or Twitter. Absolutely not.

I know that some tertiary institutions are more progressive with online learning, but these are not the established, traditional ones so sure of their reputation that they forfeit self-assessment. Maybe I’m being unkind. After all, they provide experts. One expert per subject. Are the students learning how to learn in a global context where experts are scattered?

Stephen says we need interactivity in our learning; we need to learn from people. Instead of relying on traditional models of learning, we need to build our own interaction network, placing ourselves, not the content, at the centre.

I’m thinking about secondary school students. A teacher picks the content which is the agenda for learning. What about the interests, the passion of the individual student that could drive authentic learning? Isn’t there room for passion-driven learning in our curriculum?

Stephen says to employ a wide range of technologies to build our network. We need to pick and choose the technologies that are most comfortable to us. Pull is better than push, we should be able to choose our sources. He tells us to speak in our own voice and listen for authenticity; share our knowledge and our experiences, opinions.
We need to make networked learning a habit and a priority. He said someone had coined the phrase ‘interaction is like breathing for the brain’. If interaction isn’t provided, we have to make it ourselves, for example, if we’re at a lecture like this, we should blog it. Hence this post.

Stephen sees information and knowledge as people-centred. That is, we should bring knowledge in, but also translate it into our own way of seeing the world, and then share it, creating a network for people to remix in their own way. This is one of my favourite new concepts of knowledge – it evolves depending on who does what with it; we’re all unique, and so is our take on knowledge.

But how do we control knowledge as we pull it in? We simplify it, and summarise it in our own words, using our own vocabulary. Make it relevant to us, take what’s important to us now. Shouldn’t students be taught to learn this way?

And then it really got interesting. Stephen said, it’s better to shun formal lectures (certain irony here) in favour of informal learning, eg. the Google Reader approach to learning; learning from people we’ve decided we want to speak to us.

And what about this: Do connect to your work at home and on vacation but feel free to sleep at the office; most work environments are dysfunctional;your learning takes place when it takes place. Your best time might not be 9 to 5; ideas and learning happen when they happen.

And here’s one for those of you who, like myself, often feel overwhelmed by the flood of knowledge they’ve pulled down on themselves. You don’t want to assimilate all that knowledge. Let go, it will come back if it’s important; information is a flow, not a collection of objects.

Self-directed learning is a theme with Stephen. You and nobody else is reponsible for your own learning. These principles ought to inform how we teach as well as how we learn, and that’s what connectivism and Learning 2.0 is all about. Self-directed learning rejects passivity, so get up and walk out if what you’re hearing doesn’t interest you. Be pro-active; take responsibility for learning.

There’s a lot more to Stephen’s talk than I’ve managed to outline here. This will do from me.

Have a look at the Connectivism and Connective Knowledge Online Course. created by Stephen and George Siemens.

If I had to say one thing that I came out thinking about today, it would have to be that learning is personal, and that we must be pro-active about finding, organising and creating our own knowledge, about what we learn and who we learn from. And in this way, if we learn transparently, we model learning for our students.


Filed under 21st century learning, learning, network literacy, teachers, teaching, technology, Web 2.0

9 great reasons why teachers should use Twitter



Laura Walker posted 9 great reasons why teachers should use Twitter.

Twitter is often represented as a facile activity for people who have nothing better to do than given minute by minute reports on what they had for breakfast or what TV show they were watching. In fact, that’s missing the point that many other people are getting.  Take the time and effort to build a Twitter community of people who share your interests, as well as people who push your boundaries for good debate, and you’ve got a forum for life.

The nine reasons that Laura Walker gives for why teachers should use Twitter are:

  1.  Together we’re better
  2.  Global or local
  3. Self-awareness or reflective practice
  4. Ideas workshop and sounding board
  5. Newsroom and innovation showcase
  6. Professional development and critical friends
  7. Quality-assured searching
  8. Communicate, communicate, communicate
  9. Getting with the times has never been so easy!

Go past the points and look into the meat of Laura’s reasons. Don’t be  put off by all the negative press; find out for yourself.


Filed under 21st century learning, networking, teachers, Web 2.0

Student bloggers speak out eloquently

On the blog Free resources from the net for special education Paul Hamilton has written a very interesting post sharing his views on student blogging in Jan Smith’s grade 6 class, and a video where he interviews his students about their blogging. If you have any doubts about the value of student blogging, then watch this video. You’ll meet students with different capabilities and interests, explaining what they have learned from blogging. They’re very expressive and specific about how their writing has improved with blogging – and not all of these students like writing. You’ll also notice that they’re able to focus on their special interests and passions in their blog writing, and you’ll see how much work they’ve put in with research and visual presentation, and how proud they are of their efforts. It confirms for me what I’ve been raving about of late – that learning occurs when it’s student-driven, passion-driven, and authentic, with an audience consisting not only of the teacher, but of peers and even people all over the world.

When I listened to the kids on this video talk about their blogging experiences, I was amazed at their ability to reflect and evaluate their learning since taking up blogs. They have become experts in their area of interest. Their passion has driven their depth of research, and they’re more likely to learn from each other than from information presented to them by their teacher out of context and unattached to people they know.

Listen to the girl who loves blogging. She describes blogging as ‘another part of me’.  She blogs outside of school hours because she loves it. When asked to explain why blogging is better than normal classroom writing, she lists the feedback (‘The whole world sees my writing’); the fact that she can speak out and let people know what she has to say, that she can write. What does she write about? What has happened. She writes about what she has read, what has happened in her life, and in the rest of the world.

Take a look at the video. If you jotted down the advantages of blogging as these kids speak, you’d have a decent presentation for principals or staff in general in defence of student blogging.

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Filed under 21st century learning, blogging, Education, learning, technology, Web 2.0, writing