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Convincing a school to buy into a product called Pencil, a messaging app designed for teachers to communicate with students and their families, was not as simple as it would seem says Jason Tanz in an article Your kid’s school is missing the Tech Revolution and it’s all your fault. (Wired, February 23, 2015)

Despite the Principal’s support, overworked teachers balked at the idea of having to learn a new system and parents were skeptical: privacy issues could be an issue.  Explaining what went wrong, Pencil’s CEO, Yogesh Sharma, said:

There’s all these stakeholders—the principals, the PTA, the teachers, and then there’s the district that has their own way of doing things. You’re in the middle of this crossfire and the ball doesn’t move because nobody has the ability to make a quick decision.”

Taking a closer look, Tanz commented on the struggle facing entrepreneurs and academics who are regularly “stymied by predictably sclerotic bureaucracies and overcautious government agencies” when attempts are made to introduce new technology into our schools. Instead, he notes, entrepreneurs have been taking the back door approach, targeting end users: students and teachers and thus avoiding ‘blocks’ laid down by administrators.

It’s an interesting scenario which Tanz suggests is

reminiscent of the way Apple invaded the workplace by selling so many iPhones to individual employees that IT departments had no choice but to incorporate them. Or to the way that Uber has quickly signed up so many customers that it has forced legislators to rewrite their laws to accommodate them or risk alienating their citizens.

This kind of argument certainly made me stop and think about what’s been happening in schools.

Could it be that teachers are being, unsuspectingly, manipulated?
Could it be that students are forcing change upon us?

With more than 750 million educational apps to be installed world wide on mobile devices this year, Tanz highlights the shift occurring in schools when he quotes John Doerr in The Wall Street Journal (August 21st, 2014)

The mobile technologies that have revolutionized the American workplace are now transforming our education system,” he wrote. “For years entrepreneurs and educators have been pushing to bring education technology into the classroom, but adoption has often been slow. Now the education tech landscape is shifting toward mobile devices and new, free and easy-to-use services.”

While this process sounds simple enough, the blocks to progress continue.  The range and quality of new apps and services regularly leave parents, teachers, eLearning leaders and school administrators scratching their heads as they try to figure out which apps are best to bring into school programs.  And, as Tanz suggests, getting teachers on board is not quite as easy as it sounds. Giving an analogy of teachers to physicians who resisted the adoption of electronic medical records, Tanz suggests that teachers feel threatened or annoyed by incursions into the ‘sanctity of their classroom’.

It’s my strong belief however that there is more to it than this.

Teachers are time poor and way too overloaded to easily adopt and adapt new technology into their lessons.”

Exploring apps to determine how they can be incorporated into the curriculum, picking up news skills and re-learning how to present lessons using new technology are all time consuming tasks.  Tagging this discovery and learning onto the end of a very busy, demanding day in which teachers are constantly on call is no easy ask.

Few other occupations demand as much of their employees as does education.  It is incumbent on school administrators to look at the big picture and to consider how teachers can be relieved of the constant time pressure they face.  It is essential that learning opportunities which are pleasurable, enjoyable and exciting be created within the school day.  Teachers should be encouraged to take up opportunities to experiment, discover and explore tools, skills, and pedagogy of their own choosing.  Rather than being required to focus on per-determined learning programs prescribed by the school, teachers, just like the students in our schools, should be required to set their own learning goals and to determine the own path to achieve these goals.

In this way, teachers can become role models to their students in the exciting journey of lifelong learning.

A friend of mine (thanks Chris!) shared an image on Facebook this week.

Teacher at beginning and end of year

Clearly the image struck a chord with me as it kept resurfacing in my mind for the next 24 hours!   Sadly, this image really reflects a sad reality.  There wouldn’t be a teacher out there, young or old, experienced or inexperienced, who wouldn’t nod their head in agreement on seeing this.

And yet, the status quo seems to continue.  Issues such as the ever increasing work load which brings on inevitable teacher stress and burn out is not being adequately addressedIt’s a topic I’ve blogged about in the past: Passion vs Process.

A conversation had just recently with a work colleague focused on the high turn over rate of young teachers.  As more experienced teachers move into retirement, few young teachers stay for long in what used to be a ‘lifetime’ career. Apart from implementing ‘buddy’ programs to ease new recruits into the system, little else seems to be happening to nurture the initial passion of this valuable cohort of educators in our schools to ensure that they stay in the job.  It’s a shame.  The situation is even more poignant when we consider the incredible time, cost and effort investment made by student teachers, those responsible for the training programs and the school based supervising teachers involved in the teacher training programs. The losers are, of course, our students.

The message in an article in The Age this week: Google to rank ‘mobile-friendly’ sites higher (April 21, 2015) was crystal clear – if you don’t ‘keep up’ you’ll miss out!

From Wednesday, Google will prioritise companies that have “mobile-friendly” websites when people use the search engine on their smartphones or tablet computers.”

Small Business Australia, it was reported, has asked Google for more time to make the switch as 66% of Australian websites are not yet optimised for mobile devices and will therefore be disadvantaged.

Behind good business acumen and computer literacy  lays education.  The education of our society is inextricably bound to the teachers within our schools.  Teachers in a constant state of stress cannot perform at their optimum level.

Time to face this reality is now – before it is too late!

I’m passionate about the issue of lifelong learning and the value it has for each of us as educators.

Traditional professional learning programs which still predominate in our schools are no longer the best way to engage teachers.  Education, particularly teacher education, has been irrevocably altered by technology.  The ease of communication between teachers has opened up new pathways.  Life in our highly ‘connected’ world is transforming how teachers learn, what they learn, when they learn and with whom they learn.   A range of very effective teacher education programs are constantly evolving and it is time for school administrators to re-think the nature of learning opportunities being offered to teachers.

Having often written about lifelong learning here on NovaNews and having presented my thoughts on this topic at a number of conferences over recent years, it’s great to have been offered the opportunity to write a series of articles about lifelong learning for Education Technology Solutions, an Australian based publication which also has a web presence via its blog.

My first article in this series: Be inspired: Become a lifelong learner! has just been published in Education Technology Solutions – Issue 65, April/May 2015.

ABSTRACT: In our rapidly changing world teachers need to become self-starters who learn for the sake of learning rather than because it is a requirement. By discovering the joy of learning and its inherent power, the ‘one size fits all’ type learning, so typical of teacher training programs and professional development activities, can be replaced by meaningful and personalized programs and activities which nurture lifelong learning. This article explores a range of alternate learning opportunities which can be created within our schools.

Also published online on the Educational Technology Solutions website, I’m pleased to be able to share it directly with my readers here.

Be Inspired: Become A Lifelong Learner!

lifelongBy Bev Novak.

Stop for a moment and think: What is the best professional learning program you have ever experienced?

Was it one of the weekly school staff meetings? Perhaps it was a curriculum day session or a conference you attended at the end of the year? Was it a session you were required to attend or a session you were hanging out to attend? Was it a talk, a presentation, a workshop or a reading? Was it a one off session or a series of sessions? Were you required to actively participate and/or submit required responses? Did it involve the use of social media, the blogosphere or attendance in an online forum? Did you pick up new skills and knowledge that have now become part and parcel of your teaching personae?

Back to work blues!

I’ve had two glorious weeks off work. No alarm clock.  Lots of opportunities to sleep-in. Plenty of time to smell the roses.

Tomorrow it all ends though …..

I dread being woken by the shrill noise of my alarm clock and then stumbling my way through the first few waking moments of the day.

So when I read about Wakē ….. my ears pricked up!

Wakē is a modern alarm clock that wakes you up with a personal sunrise and focused sounds – waking up each person in bed individually”

Check it out. This sure sounds like a great one to back on Kickstarter!

Teachers are people!

It’s hard to believe, but the first term (which translates as the first half of Semester 1) of the 2015 school year has already been and gone!   Like my other Australian teaching colleagues, I’m enjoying a little respite with a two week vacation before heading back to school, books and work.

It’s most probably a reflection of my age, that this cartoon, which I came across last year when I was ambling around the web, made me giggle, reminisce and reflect – all at once.  This 1952 Disney short follows Goofy’s attempts to teach, and control, his students.   It’s an old-school cartoon slapstick focusing on old school education, with apples for the teacher, kids using catapults and lots of pointing at maps of the world.

Education sure has moved a long way since we were in school. Yes indeed, as said at the start of the video, teachers must be fair, understanding, honest and intelligent. But we all know that the demands today are so much more than this.

So, even now, when we are taking a break, thoughts continue to swill around:

  • How can we do it better?
  • How can we create more enthusiasm with what we do?
  • How can we ensure that we retain our relevancy in the classroom?

The questions keep coming – don’t they?

Earlier this year I read a great post via my LinkedIn account, a post by James Shea: Facebook and the e-lephant in the room – are you still their teacher?  (January 15, 2015) With a rare clarity, Shea describes the very real situation which all teachers face repeatedly: our students are using apps and web tools that we’ve yet to master.

What you do need to know is that students are using the latest technology to tap into more knowledgeable others: whether that more knowledgeable other is an app, a website or a learning community. Once you realise this you can encourage your students to better evaluate the learning they are getting from this technological more knowledgeable other. You can flip the classroom and get students inspired to use their technology to enhance your lessons, not hinder them.”

How confident are we to let our students enhance what we do in the classroom?  How confident are we to work together with our students, calling on their skills to enhance the lessons we present?

A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about my disappointment with colleagues who shied away from participating in a TodaysMeet backchannel room created by the presenter at a conference I attended.

And then just a few days later, I came across an article which came up with 2o useful ways to use TodaysMeet in schools which has some really great ideas.

TodaysMeet is an awesome, easy to use tool!TodaysMeet

Go to the website, create a name for your room (no spaces or punctuation) and select how long you want the room to be kept online – an hour, a day, a week, a month or a year – then open the room.  Reassure students/staff that at the end of this time, the posts entered and the entire room disappears from the web – it cannot be revisited or relocated.  Remind  participants (veterans of newbies) that they can write no more than 140 characters.  Decide in advance if participants are to put their own names/initials or whether they can be anonymous.  Remember to tell them of your requirement.  Share the TodaysMeet room address with participants – and away you go!!

That’s all there is to it.  Pretty simple!

Keen to give it a go one day, I thought I’d think out loud and consider how some of the ideas suggested in this article could be applied in either my school library or among staff at a staff meeting.   So here goes:

Using TodaysMeet in a School Library:

  1. Have a conversation: Having students share their thoughts about books read is one of the regular activities that occur in library sessions.  Having them record their thoughts about a book read and then having others who have read the same book share their thoughts, may be a different way of approaching this well spun activity.  With multiple participants being able to participate at the one time, increased participation by more students, particularly the shy ones, would be possible.
  2. Share links: Students could be asked to locate a range of different links to share with each other:  book reviews; author and publisher pages, fandoms, book vlogs, graphics, book covers and more to create a sharpened focus and awareness.  Allowing students time to explore these links could be part and parcel of the session.
  3. Ask questions: Encouraging students to write questions about information and/or opinions being shared orally by one or more students is a great way to develop analytical skills.
  4. Give examples: Inspiring students to read widely is often achieved by the teacher librarian spruiking books they have read.  By having students respond in writing about how the book’s context or story relates to them can be a powerful way of creating a connection and boosting interest. This kind of activity allows greater participation than the traditional classroom approach of ‘talk/share in a circle’.
  5. Create rotating stories: Have each student add a sentence to an ongoing story.  Check the increasing interest level as the story progresses around the room.  If the class is large – break it up into two or more groups to allow for increased active participation.
  6. Hold online office hours: Circulate the url of a TodaysMeet room and post ‘office hours’ which can be used by students to seek assistance, ask questions, share information or just clarify uncertainties.  Don’t forget to also give a start date and an end date of the availability of the room.
  7. Connect with other classrooms: An online forum enables a conversation to move beyond the four walls of a classroom.   Line up classes in other schools both locally and globally and have them participate in a conversation about a set topic.
  8. Connect with experts: Contact the author of a popular book and see whether they will agree to make themselves available to join the TodaysMeet at a certain hour/day, then just sit back and watch the conversation flow!
  9. Host a contest: Competitions with immediate rewards are a great way to ensure involvement.  The sky is the limit on this kind of activity!  Instructing students to enter their response onto TodaysMeet after the count of three is bound to be a winner!
  10. Facilitate group projects: Students tackling a group project could use a chat room created in TodaysMeet as the place to share links, resources, interesting articles, graphics, videos and ideas.  Instructed by the teacher in advance that the recorded conversation would be an assessable part of the completed project would inject inspiration for all members of the group to participate.

Using TodaysMeet at a Staff Meeting:

  1. Have a conversation: Give teachers a real life opportunity to become familiar with the value of engaging in backchannel conversation during a workshop or conference presentations by creating a TodaysMeet room at either a staff meeting of for sessions held in an onsite Curriculum Day. Learning by doing is as powerful for teachers as it is for our students!
  2. Share links: So often when we attend staff presentations, mention is made by the presenter of different tools, websites and links.  Sometimes details of where to find more information is given by the presenter, but often it is not.  TodaysMeet allows teachers present to immediately share their knowledge with other teachers attending.  At the end of the presentation, a valuable record of notes, thoughts, ideas and links shared can be copied and kept for later review by participants.
  3. Ask questions: Being able to pose questions on the spot and have other participants respond is a great way to question without interrupting the thread of the presenter.  If style of presentation involves a group activity or discussion, the presenter can read through the TodaysMeet chat and respond to specific questions when the presentation resumes.
  4. Give examples: For those sessions requiring participants to reflect on a situation created/described by the presenter, TodaysMeet offers a great way to record thoughts and examples given.  Often ideas given by one can trigger the thoughts of another.  Ideas teased out in this way can leave the group with a valuable set of notes on which they can individually reflect.
  5. Take a poll: Some school issues need a quick resolution. Being able to see opinion of all staff on a couple of choices given is valuable.  If desired anonymity can be introduced.
  6. Discuss an event: There seem to be a never ending range of issues that arise in staff meetings.  From procedure to practice, the opinions of staff are often heatedly shared. What better way to ensure that everyone has their say than to have them jot their thoughts in a 140 character statement!  Discussion of school events, the logistics and concerns of the event can also be discussed and shared in this space.
  7. Hold online office hours: Being able to discuss or give feedback about a burning issue can easily be put in place on TodaysMeet by having teachers anonymously enter their comments.  Posting comments in a respectful manner goes without saying.  Lending some ‘punch’ to the comments posted could be achieved by having the focus topic created and posted by the Principal or others from the school’s administration.
  8. Connect with experts: Inviting a local or global expert on a certain topic would give teachers a real feel of the power of a virtual classroom.  Use Twitter to locate the volunteer expert.  It may come as a surprise how willing world experts can be!
  9. Create a club/team communications site:  A TodaysMeet room can be created for a day, a week, a month or a year.   Use it as a place to publicize subject or campus meetings.  Use it to connect with parents about the upcoming swimming carnival.  Use it to post updates on time, venue, provisions or just anything that relates to the event.  And as suggested in the article that has inspired this blog post this approach could “Save yourself tons of phone calls or text messages if everyone checks the group TodaysMeet site.”
  10. Have asynchronous staff/committee meetings: TodaysMeet can break down the need for a set staff meeting at a given time on a specific day of the week.  A virtual space liberates teachers, allowing them to participate in a discussion about a specific topic over a set period of time – a day or a week.

TodaysMeet is a vibrant and versatile tool which can be used in both the classroom and the staffroom.  By actively engaging with the tool, students and teachers alike will develop improved skills engaging online and in the process will gain confidence in both using the tool and in themselves.

Let me know how you are using this tool in your school.

By the time you’re reading this, the much anticipated smart Apple Smartwatch will have been announced.  Although there have been lots of leaks along the way which may have dampened the recent announcement, the range and ability of Apple’s new ‘baby’ is bound to be a serious player revolutionizing the market place.

But …..

I’ve just been looking at Pebble Time – described by it’s publicists as ‘an awesome smartwatch’ –  which has been crowdfunding for just on a week to enable it’s launch onto the market place.   As I write, more than 66,000 people worldwide have pledged close to $17,000,000.  No doubt those figures will have increased significantly by the time this post is published.

Take a look for yourself at Pebble Time and judge for yourself.

Check out a later announcement of Pebble Time Steel too.

Then have a read of the specs on Kickstarter – and if you are keen to own a Pebble Time Smartwatch be quick – there’s only just over a week to go to make your pledge!

But ….. back to the Apple Watch ….. it’s announcement was less than a week ago and still, the hype hasn’t abated.  True to Apple form, it looks awesome!   Skip to 5.20 minutes into this short presentation about the Apple Watch given by CEO Tim Cook this week:

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