Not Just a Teacher

binge thinking on technology and education

Not Just a Teacher

What is stopping the Education Revolution?

August 30th, 2013 · No Comments · General

There are lots of amazing people out there doing the most amazing things to bring about the education revolution every day. I am not going to name names simply because I will offend those I miss out. But there are lots of educators trying to push education beyond the archaic models of desks in rows, lecture theatres, computer suites,  worksheets, recall assessment, stand-alone subjects, using technology to mimic what was done with a paper and pen, etc etc etc………. And I am a firm believer that the guerrilla movement must never stop trying to bring about change.

Yet, let’s face it, despite there being lots of educators pushing the boundaries and trying to make fundamental changes to the way education is provided at all levels, for the most part we are a minority and the impact we have had so far is minimal. So, I am asking the question that many are shying away from (and attempting to provide an answer)  – What is stopping the Education Revolution?

I think the answer comes from 3 areas and can be represented like this:



Senior Leaders in schools, Assessment requirements and Teacher Training are all preventing the Education Revolution. Admittedly, not all Senior Leaders are included in this. There are some shining lights who break the mould with creative learning spaces, empowerment of students, etc. Likewise there are some courses where assessment requirements that do not hinder the education revolution as they allow the assessment to be integrated as part of the work, reflection/self/peer assessment to be a significant aspect. And there are pockets of teacher training that equips the new generation of teachers with the right mentality and approach to join the guerrilla movement.

On the whole though, leaders in schools are rarely willing to address the complex and long term issues around making wholesale changes within their institutions that will bring about the education revolution to their students. Perhaps in some ways the confines of assessment requirements prevents them from doing so as does a lack of trained teachers who can work with C21 pedagogies.

Two main arguments I hear to my views are that it is curriculum and not assessment that is the issue, the other being that Governments need to make the changes. On the first point, I would say that assessment ultimately drives curriculum. Students and teachers to some extent look to how certain grades can be achieved. Poor assessment methods that focus on mental recall, facts and figures, separate tests after learning has happened do little to promote forward thinking approaches to teaching and learning. Secondly, arguing that it is at a higher level than this, where Governments are actually the ones preventing the Education Revolution is comparable to waiting for them to act on climate change. Political parties will not win votes by proposing radical changes that cost a lot of money in the short term for long term gains when they are likely to be replaced in a few years. Hence, the guerrilla movement has to continue but the key is to step into these 3 key areas in order to make a significant impact on the lack of Education Revolution that has happened so far.


The conference experience

July 19th, 2013 · 1 Comment · General

This week I attended the CEGSA State Conference and had the privilege of being one of the keynote speakers and leading a workshop.

I don’t know about anybody else but I find conferences tiring, actually I find them exhausting if they are good. I reckon this is because I have to listen and think really hard for prolonged periods of time, reflect and consider my stance, my opinions, what has been said and challenge my own ideas.  In other words, I find them mentally exhausting perhaps even a little emotionally draining. Then when I work at the conference, particularly presenting a keynote, I get physically tired as well . I think this must be the tension, the adrenalin that makes this so.

So, why do it? Why go to conferences and why present at them?

This is a question I have asked myself a number of times. You see a lot of the times, I ask myself how much do conferences provide for educators and indeed for me? How much do they actually affect practice? In essence, what difference do they make in the long term to teachers who will back in the classroom soon after teaching a class of……….? And, I think these questions are healthy. I think they are vital both to organisers, presenters, attendees and to schools who allow/pay/support their staff to attend. If these questions are not constantly asked of everything that goes on at conferences then it will simply be about the quality of the coffee and the lunch. (Btw – If anyone thinks the desire to present is for egotistical or monetary reasons then I am sorry, you are a bit wide of the mark)

Now, in terms of the CEGSA State Conference and the same can be said of the IWB K-12 MasterClass I recently attended, I have to say that my Australian experience so far has been so very positive. Those in attendance and presenting have provided me not only with deep thinking, challenges to my views, (particularly in workshop environments) but direct feedback. I love this. In respect of the keynotes I have done, attendees have sought me out and wanted to get involved, ask me questions and tell me their views. I also love this.

On top of all this, I have got to spend time with educators I have known for ages on Twitter. Cement friendships face to face. (I wouldnt want to name anyone for fear of missing someone out here!) I have gained new contacts, people to add to my network such as Erin Gallagher @ezka29. This networking is important to me.

But above all else, I honestly believe that through being involved in these conferences, I have had the chance to really spark Digital Leaders and in Australia. Watch this space…..

And thanks to everyone I have come into contact with during my conference stints. Keep communicating with me.




Publishing Research & What Journal Editors Want

July 18th, 2013 · No Comments · General

Having attended a very thorough workshop on this area and failing in previous efforts to understand the ins and outs of this, I thought this was well worth sharing:

Mindmap of the key points

18-07-2013 10-06-13 PM

Storify of tweets and images of notes from the day


[View the story “Publishing Research & What Journal Editors Want” on Storify]


Where have all the B-Sides gone?

July 14th, 2013 · 1 Comment · General

If you were born any time before approximately 1990, then buying a vinyl record will have been something you have probably done while growing up. And for those who are not familiar with the concept of vinyl or those with really dodgy memories, they usually came with B-sides (I say ‘usually’ because you may recall the Double-A- Sides offered from time to time).

B-sides were the other song(s) on the single. They were not the song that sent the song or the artist to number one in nearly all cases but you got them with song that you bought, the A-Side.

Yet, times have moved on. The way that music is bought and listened to, the way charts are made up, the marketing, production, packaging and even the medium for the most part are completely different. We have gone from vinyl to CD, CD to downloads. Some mourn the death of vinyl and there are regular indicators of it’s resurgence. Despite still having fans, though, vinyl records will never again be the most popular means by which we buy or listen to music. Times have changed. Times have moved on. And where have all the B-Sides gone? Well, they have become something else, maybe album ‘fillers’ or free bonus downloads. Some would argue that they just no longer exist?

Is the demise of the B-Side a good thing or bad thing? To be honest, I would say it depends on the way you look at it and which band(s) you’re talking about. What is important though, is that it has gone and consumers, music listeners no longer demand (if they ever did) this as part of their music purchase.

Now, when I look at education in the same way as I have music, ‘vinyl’ is still the medium for the most part, the B-sides are still there. Some would argue that we are still listening to music on 78s in fact! There has been little advancement that reflects what has happened in music purchasing, marketing, production, packaging (although there is a valid argument that packaging has seen the most advancement in respect of education systems and schools (re)packaging what they have to make it look like they have ‘moved with the times’ when in reality ‘the desks are still in rows’ with the teacher lecturing from the front for most of the time and offering worksheets for the rest).

Yet, the bizarre thing, to my mind, is that the consumer, the customer, the recipients of education are mostly those who have never seen vinyl, do not demand B-sides or long for the crackles and pops that those 7 and 12 inches provided. They want something different from music and something different from education. I suppose there is a very relevant question left to ask: When will education listen?


They hear voices

July 4th, 2013 · No Comments · General

Being a parent is hard work a lot of the time, so incredibly rewarding but undeniably hard work.  Being a parent when you are trying to teach your children something is really hard work, though, I find. And I know in conversations I have that I am far from the only one with this view. Trying to teach kids how to ride bikes, tell the time, tie laces and so on, all challenging milestones myself and many around me are struggling to help our offspring reach. But many times, another person has far quicker and/or greater impact with our children. Whether it is a spouse, Grandma or Grandad, family friend, sibling or peer, they hear voices that have an impact on learning.

Being a teacher is hard work a lot of the time, so incredibly rewarding but undeniably hard work. Trying to teach children how to… [fill in the gap] … are all challenging milestones all teachers struggle to help students reach.

At that point, I don’t think I can really go on with the comparison of parenting to teaching in this sense. Why? Because, much of education in school systems does not recognise the fact that another person (other than a teacher) can have far quicker and/or greater impact with young people.

Approaches to really involving parents in the learning process, peer learning and the fundamental concept of empowered learners educating in community pods are archaic and simplistic if they exist at all. It is time to involve and embrace all the voices and move the profession of teaching to education, REAL education.


When is a Jam not a Jam?

June 1st, 2013 · 2 Comments · General

If you didn’t pick up on my tweets this week then you may have missed the #unijam I was involved in at University of South Australia where I work. Here is a definition of a jam in this context:

A jam is an online brainstorming event and ideas generator. It allows for thousands of participants to have a conversation on a range of issues in real time from wherever they are located. (

This was facilitated:

using IBM’s Collaborative Innovation platform. Globally, over 80 businesses, not-for-profits and government bodies have successfully used this technology for organisational conversations. However, this will be the first time that any university in the world has done so. (

It went over 38 hours (including through the night) and was open to everyone past and present connected with the university including students, staff alumni and some invited guests.

So, given my involvement in such a unique event for education, I thought I would give a little reflection on what I saw and experienced.

The new VC and President of the uni took over in January and in a university with over 35000 students (, I really cant think of a better way to make an impact than #unijam. Yes, it had massive promotion all over the campus and was a huge no doubt marketing exercise, but before it had even begun it gave him the opportunity to get all over the UniSA campuses, meet students and staff with a real social, non-threatening feel.

However, I urge anyone reading this not to get caught up in thinking that this was only a PR exercise. It was far more than that. The jam allowed anyone and everyone connected with the university to have a voice, to moan, suggest ideas, share experiences, insight, put their twopenneth in the way that they saw fit. It brought together students, academic and professional staff, alumni and some well respected guests in fields of particular expertise, eg Major Bolden a NASA Administrator and Professor Andrew Ng from Stanford, developer of their MOOCs (see for full list). And the medium of forums allowed a level playing field where discussions could take place openly without regard for status or position.

For me, I have to admit that I went through a roller coaster of emotions during the two days. The first day, I started a few threads and got hardly any response to them. In a gamified sense, I wanted to level up and I felt a little disappointed by what I saw as a lack of regard for my views. Yet, I was still enjoying discussing and posting in other peoples’ threads. I found it hard to concentrate on working at the same time. All in all, the day was a good experience. It showcased the strength in quality online tools as the IBM interface handled the traffic seamlessly and when one got used to it, how easy it was to have multiple updates/events happening all one one screen very frequently. A real bonus to the jam itself though, was the presence of the VC himself in social media, tweeting and directly communicating with students and staff. His manner was well suited to the event and highlighted how senior management in organisations can still be part of the ‘common people‘. Although, it was clearly only a small percentage of the thousands participating in the #unijam who were tweeting about it, his timely tweets encouraged this extra voice had the hashtag trending.

The second day was a different story for me. At times the discussions were such that I was overloaded. One of my threads in particular went a little wild. But, this was not tweeting with limited characters that I am used to. It was well-thought out, reasoned arguments that were needed for whatever you brought to the table and that was not only time consuming, it was mentally draining. The moaning mentioned above was even well reasoned for the most part 🙂 and the forum really did bring out such a level of discussion and debate I doubt has ever happened at an educational institute at one time.

By the late afternoon, I was exhausted and was glad to have a respite as I went off to soccer training a bunch of under 6’s then a game of squash. When I came back to the jam at about 9pm, I really wanted to round things off but to be honest, I didn’t have the heart to really trawl the discussions and bring together what I thought were the main issues for me. I had made my points, read and responded to so many posts and threads, racked my brains about so many different areas of education, that I wanted no more.

And that’s a key point for me in my experiences here. It was the discussion and the debates that were the most important part of all of this. The ability to communicate and what comes out of that which is so valuable. This is where the best ideas come from for me. I really hope the software mines this properly and brings out the best ideas that appeared in posts not just headliner threads. So, UniSA can act on them.

So, if you are still reading this and involved in education, I urge you to follow the example set here and try something like this wherever you work. Invite all involved to an open session. If it is just a primary or secondary school for instance, there are plenty of free platforms that would allow contributions and open conversation (eg, a Facebook group). Don’t be afraid of what it might bring but celebrate the fact that people get a say and their ideas can then be considered and actioned, if they are considered useful to the development of your organisation. Everything about it is a winner. You get so many ideas and views, you get the gripes out in the open, you allow people to converse and debate, discuss plans. Everyone sees what is happening and no-one is excluded. It is a community pushing itself forward and that is exactly what online communication should be used on this level for.

I will leave you with a bit of Seth Godin genius:

If no one says “go”, the project languishes. If no one insists, pushes, creates, cajoles, and launches, then there’s nothing; it’s all wasted (Poke the Box)



We all love Ken

May 26th, 2013 · 3 Comments · General

Before I get into this post, let’s make one thing really clear… I really like Sir Ken Robinson. I really like listening to his talks. As a speaker and the messages he gives are, on the whole, quite brilliant. But, am I the only person beginning to think what’s the point? Where is being a Ken fan really getting us?

Now, try and hold on to your simmering rage here. Of course we all love Ken and despite the fact that I have moved to the other side of the world, that feeling seems just as strong here. In a conversation the other day with a primary school senior manager, she began telling me how much she loved the RSA Animated – Changing Paradigm and how she had watched it numerous times. This sort of comment has been said to me many times by all manner of educators from student teachers to principals, Education Authority decision makers to educational consultants. Added to this, I see tweet upon retweet of Ken’s latest offering – How to Escape Education’s Death Valley suggested to all who will watch and listen. So, all in all, I am of the mind that considering his “three talks have been viewed an astounding 21.5 million time” (TED blog), Sir Ken Robinson and his message are near enough ubiquitous in the education community.

But what I am getting at here, is how much is actually been done about it? Who can honestly say that their school have or they know a school that has put some or all of Sir Ken’s suggestions into practice?

Or has it all become like some adverts (commercials) on TV, entertaining and visually stunning but seen too many times for them to make an impact?


Twitter Introductions and the Flow

May 21st, 2013 · No Comments · General

There has been much written about Netiquette, communicating online and the intricacies of the online medium for dialogue. The sad thing is, I have read a lot of it but it doesn’t stop me finding Twitter introductions and the flow of the conversation, especially in the early stages of following/being followed, rather difficult.

Questions such as the following always invade my brain:

  • Should I thank someone for following me?
  • What should I do after the initial welcome, intros?
  • If I want a new contact to look at something I have done or see if they are interested in something of mine, when should I move on to that conversations?
  • When am I being pushy or being too lax?
  • And what if there is something or theirs I want to be part of or something they have done/said etc, how quickly do I bring that up?
  • When am I sounding too much like a groupie?

But even with these moments of discomfort, it doesn’t and will never stop me getting involved. We are in a relatively early stage in the development of this way of communicating and we need to find our own comfort zones, me included. I guess with some people, my way of communicating will come across well and others it wont. I will keep trying, though. Hope you don’t mind!


What is the most worthwhile use of an academic’s time?

May 20th, 2013 · 2 Comments · General


A while back, I asked this question on Twitter:
What is the most worthwhile use of an academic’s time, lecture or tutorial?
It was a simple question or so I thought but then I am working in this space although not as an academic, hence my views struggle to be impartial.
This little conversation, made me think deeper about the question I was asking:

20-05-2013 9-19-31 AM Background

Just to set the scene here: I see the lecture as still being touted as the mainstay of most of Higher Education. Yes, there are institutes out there who are moving away or already have moved away from this delivery method but I don’t think they are the majority. Ok, I don’t have facts and figures, empirical evidence here but through many conversations, observations and searching on university offerings online give me enough to go on. And, if most MOOCs are anything to go by, well…………..
But, is the lecture an effective use of an academic’s time?

Is that what a highly educated specialist should be devoting precious resources to in an increasingly time-pressurized environment?

Or is there a better use of that time?



I suppose it is best to clarify the meaning of ‘lecture’ first though. Lecture in this sense, is about somebody delivering content, an oral
presentation. For the spatial learners, this is a lecture theatre, typically tiered seating, with a person at the front talking and perhaps having supporting resources displayed. Yes, there might be some questions asked but this largely one-way delivery. In other words, lecturer talks, shows, explains…..students listen and try to understand (or more accurately try to stay awake!)


Now, this conjures up many different images depending on personal experiences, subject studied, university attended, etc but Wikipedia does a good job of explaining it for me:

A tutorial is a method of transferring knowledge and may be used as a part of a learning process. More interactive and specific than a book or a lecture; a tutorial seeks to teach by example and supply the information to complete a certain task. Depending on the context a tutorial can take one of many forms, ranging from a set of instructions to complete a task to an interactive problem solving session (usually in academia).


What is the most worthwhile use of an academic’s time?

Well let’s summarise what seems to go on a lot in Higher Education:
Lectures –
Largely one way interaction
Very little opportunity for students to clarify misunderstandings or get explanations in areas where they need it
Often limited in learning styles
Same or similar content delivered in repeated sessions
Often very long (hours)
Attendance issues

Very interactive if organised appropriately
Lots of opportunities for students to develop their understanding, learn from the academic and from their peers. Can involve problem solving, creative tasks, development exercises that have spin-offs in nurturing other skills in a student (eg communication, presentation skills)
Often based on applying knowledge, this allows students and the academic to see where understanding and indeed where misunderstandings are occurring.
Content will be different based on the needs of the students so repeated sessions are more dynamic.
Length of time usually hs more flexibility as the sessions are more flexible in what they are trying to achieve
Attendance issues can be addressed if students see the value in the sessions and get assistance in developing their knowledge on the course in question


The points made by Ian in the Twitter extract seem almost irrelevant when we look at the comparison above. Objectives, aims, size of cohort, etc. All of these don’t really make that much difference to how learning should be provided in this context, it seems to me.
If Blooms is considered to be the taxonomy we should be guided by when considering the essentials of learning, then the lecture, as described above, is getting nowhere near the higher levels yet tutorials are.
Of course, there is the argument that content needs to be delivered, facts, equations, principles, etc etc, need to be passed on to the learner. But, a highly paid specialist standing up and telling a group of students the same thing a few times a year.

Is that really a worthwhile use of an academic’s time?

How about this…
Every time I create a Jamie Oliver/Marco Pierre White/Rick Stein/<insert favourite chef> dish, do I need him/her there bouncing

around my kitchen telling me how to do it, as I sit impassively watching him? Or can I get the information, the techniques and the skills, the basic concepts of what I should be doing and how to do it, from some other medium rather than paying a fortune for him to come to my house?

Of course I would love the said chef to be there to guide me, show me where I am going wrong, point out better techniques, different approaches and ways of thinking about the dishes I am trying to master. And that to me, if I am to pay the fortune would where the money would be best invested.

If we apply this analogy to the issue of lectures and tutorials, to my mind, the question is a no-brainer. Surely, the specialist insight that an academic has in his/her field is best used not in a lecture but somewhere else.




Compulsion, Rules, Choice, Freedom and Independence – Part 2

March 21st, 2013 · No Comments · General

In my last post Part 1, I talked about the issues listed in the title as being a major stumbling block to educational reform to make when:

  • looking to transform education into a student centred, experience where independent study is at the heart of learning
  • moving to online and/or blended approach
  • learning and assessment becomes more of a social experience

This post ended with the following paragraph:

Rules around when, how and what should happen become more difficult for a variety of reasons and yes a lack of longevity with these ways of working is one of them. That has to be quite unsettling for some educators, hasn’t it really? But, can we really let that stand in our way and undermine the benefits of making such necessary changes?

And of course as you would expect my answer is a very loud NO!

The issue, to me, is that the mindset for an environment where the barriers are muddied, roles are changed and challenged and our experience is limited, is one of fear. Fear of imposing rules, making certain elements compulsory seems to prevail. Going back to the Edudemic post that sparked both this and Part 1, there are clear rules and structure set in place for what must happen and by when. This makes the learning exercise work in that example. Further, in some instances, insisting that learners do a particular thing should not be shied  away from. For example, if you are insisting on using a particular social media tool for your course then insist students join and use it as long as you make it clear from the start, what really is the problem? How they use it is their choice, for instance they may choose to have an avatar, a name which hides their identity, etc, if the issue is that they don’t really want to be posting their details on a social networking site.

As for freedom and independence, well this is the massive issue of control. For education to make the leaps and bounds needed to really change current practices wholesale, then control needs to be considered. Control of students’ learning, control of student interactions, control of teaching and control of assessment. Even with the rules and compulsions in place, education needs to be willing to relinquish control in all these areas in so many different ways. Set up the environments, promote the networks and set up structures (with clearly defined rules) and let learning happen. Assessment should largely come in the learning, not separate. This can happen with a focus on reflection, such as making students blog and eportfolio their developments and share, peer assess, etc etc

When educators fight the natural instincts to control learning, freedom and independence begin to flourish in learning so long as there is scaffolding, skillful manipulation and involvement in the learning by ALL parties. Change the environment both physically and mentally.