The Five Best Practices

During the holiday period I was fortunate enough to attend an Education Summit in Adelaide. I always find conferences inspirational and this one certainly was. This was a different sort of conference as it brought together the leadership of schools from across Australia and New Zealand that have been recognised as Apple Distinguished Schools. The conference was not at all about products, which we were all using in various configurations. The focus was clearly and coherently on our common interest of education / pedagogy.

One of the things I realise when I mix with other educators, leading change and innovation, is that there are some truly extraordinary people doing some truly exceptional things. These meetings and collaborative opportunities help to feed our vision. I often walk away realising that there is much, much more to do. This conference was no exception. Here assembled were many schools with mature dynamic 1:1 learning programs. Educators with clear vision and deep understanding of teaching and learning. They were representing schools whose teachers have been empowered through powerful professional learning commitments and where students are using technology as a natural part of their school life. The schools gathered were eclectic from across a wide spectrum of systems. This I think always enriches a conference because the models, challenges and solutions expressed are so diverse. There is always something new and unexpected and brilliant. There are perceptions and perspectives which always challenge our own narrow point of view. 

Through a series of workshops, we explored Five Best Practices relating to visionary leadership, innovative learning & teaching, ongoing professional learning, compelling evidence of success and flexible learning environments. Each of the workshops encouraged us to look at ourselves objectively and to interact with the other educators. While we might consider that we are making great strides in integrating technology, taking this time to reflect and learn from the experience of others was really beneficial. It fed directly to vision and brings clarity to future planning. It was all about connection and self appraisal.

The Five Best Practices concept is really worth a close look. It extends on criteria going beyond the Distinguished classification, looking at how schools can aspire to achieve Exemplary and Transformative descriptions.

Clearly we are on a continuum and being able to better articulate where we are on that continuum is essential to future planning e.g. while we are integrating and creating impressive workflows are we creating truly authentic learning experiences? How can we become more focussed on providing personalised opportunities for our students? How can we do better in providing formative feedback to teachers? How can we reinvent our learning spaces to really match the needs of students?
Materials and resources were all provided efficiently via iTunes U and we were pointed towards many of the great resources being produced by educators and available in the iTunes U Library. Of course the evolution of iTunes U with 3.0 has revolutionised the possibilities as it is now possible to provide direct feedback to students.

A great highlight, for me, was speaker Tim Jarvis who provided compelling insights into leadership in extreme circumstances. He spoke about Shackleton’s Expedition to the Antarctic and about his own expedition to retrace the impossible Shackleton journey. It certainly put our own struggles into perspective. Here I have to add that intertwined with this extraordinary tale was a deeper message about global warming and the subsequent environmental issues. Here is Challenge Based Learning in the extreme. You can learn more about Tim Jarvis’s journey here:

 Another highlight speaker, educator Craig Smith, impressed with his passion and commitment to improving learning experiences of Autistic students. His creative use of technology to improve outcomes was inspired e.g. Using Minecraft to create digital representations.



A Journey Filled With Connections

The last month has been filled with rich moments. I have travelled to Melbourne and Canberra and have participated in events locally too. This has really been a journey of connection. 
I attended the Association of Independent Schools ICT Conference in Canberra. This is a great opportunity to connect with educators from across Australia. There are also a wide range of vendors attending so it is a great chance to learn about current trends and to ask deeper questions about possibilities. There were some excellent speakers including Jeff Utecht, Dr Jane Hunter, Nas Campanella & Colin James. 

Two of the presenters Dr Jane Hunter and Nas Campanella were of particular interest to me.
Dr Jane Hunter is a teacher educator in the School of Education at the University of Western Sydney (UWS), Australia. She has received five teaching awards for Outstanding Contributions for Student Learning in universities and is now on an international team of educators providing Technology Enriched Instruction around the world. Her doctoral thesis developed a new model for technology integration in learning in schools; titled High Possibility Classrooms. 

Dr Hunter’s presentation sparked particular interest for a couple of reasons. I am very interested in evolving pedagogy and enabling teachers to open the learning opportunities through integration of technology. I am also interested in gauging improvement in non traditional, technology rich environments. 

I really enjoyed listening to her ideas and in a subsequent workshop there was some great discussion. I am looking forward to reading her book which I hope will further inform our own vision.

A later discussion with her via Twitter regarding The SAMR Model resulted in a wide exploration re TPACK, SAMR and RAT. This resulted in finding another really excellent article

This article strongly references TPACK and SAMR and provides some excellent tangible recommendations founded on the research conducted by the author regarding the development of 21st Century schools. 


Nas Campanella a journalist and newsreader for the ABC and Triple J. 26-year-old Nas is blind and has a medical condition which prevents her from reading braille.

Nas discussed the challenges of navigating life with a disability and of facing discrimination as well as the positives and negatives of technologies that helped her at school, university and in the workplace. 

Her tenacity, in the face of adversity, was truly inspiring and her capability is extraordinary. It underlined, for me, how crucial it is for schools to persevere with challenges that appear and how important it is for educators be open minded in resolving the needs of students. In Nas’s circumstance at one point there was a disconnect between support being provided and her real need. Understanding her need and then supplying a credible solution was vital and ultimately opened a world of possibilities to her. Clearly great schools and great educators are the ones who can really make a difference by being aware and responsive. We certainly should personalise our approach to our students. I have included a graphic which was created during her speech at the conference. It summarises the key points from her speech. Thanks to Rachel Dight for the great graphic.

  Graphic by Rachel Dight 

If you’d like to learn more about Nas this short video via the ABC provides some insight.

In Melbourne I attended a “Stile” conference day. I enjoyed listening to the two excellent speakers Andrew Douch (The Tools of Engagement, Redefining the Classroom) & Georgina Pazzi (The power of online differentiation,The Differentiated Classroom in Action). We have certainly seen the possibilities around engagement and differentiation, individualisation and personalised learning blossom with ubiquitous technology in our learning environment.

The conference also provided a chance to meet with many educators who were using Stile actively in their classrooms. Victoria seems to be further ahead on the innovation curve. When we were considering our iPad trial Victoria and Western Australia were already rolling iPads into their classrooms and the Victorian Education Dept had embraced the innovation. We were able to leverage their experience to help enable our roll out. Similarly Stile has a strong base in Victoria (Stile’s home state) while in New South Wales it is just starting to gain a foothold. Here I must add that I also really love the rich content that Apple has and is producing via iTunes U. There is no reason why Stile and iTunes U can’t work well together in a school environment. The particular benefit, for us, of Stile has been the easy ability of teachers to deliver content, for students to return work and for easy, direct, formative feedback. Where it has been employed actively in our classrooms, in tandem with our iPad Program, it has revolutionised the teaching/learning environment. Discussions that I had with Stile educators provided insight and opened conversations around broad educational innovation. I was also privileged to spend a little time with Dr Alan Finkel AO, the Founder and Chairman of Stile. His interest in enabling educators to be more effective in their work and his commitment to STEM initiatives identifies him as an innovation leader. The fact that he made time to connect and really listen to educators showed his real commitment to making a difference at “the coal face”. 

I also attended an Open Morning hosted by CISCO at North Sydney. This too was a chance to meet with other educators. The CISCO presenters were very polished and knowledgeable. We have a CISCO wireless infrastructure so I was interested to look at where wireless is headed. Remaining current in a fast changing landscape is important. Two quick takeaways – yes wireless speed is much faster with the new standard Ac and CISCO’s new generation access points enable easy upgrade via an interchangeable component.

CISCO also have some fabulous conferencing hardware and software. As we reinvent our learning spaces bringing some of this into the mix would be great, but cost may be a factor for smaller schools like ourselves. I wasn’t convinced that a typical teleconferencing space would be the right fit for all schools. I can see that the possibilities for virtual excursions and interactions across the world will become a common part of our modern classrooms. I was interested to see that CISCO are putting energy into classroom design as they recognise the changing classroom dynamic. I hope we can leverage some of this in our own reinvention. 

I participated in an Apple Integrators Group which was held at the Apple HQ in Pitt Street, Sydney. It was good to have a chance to share and exchange ideas with other Apple oriented educators. Here too we met with some great Apple personnel who provided information about Apple support and provision. A Development Executive K-12 Education from Apple facilitated discussion and considered the factors which enable technology in the school environment. He also discussed tools which could help evaluate the capability of teachers and leadership in relation to their capacity re the SAMR model. The meeting was enabled via iTunes U which worked really well and some great learning resources were highlighted in iTunes U and in iBooks. We were shown resources that were developed by students and teachers and which were available to experience and download in the public domain. Being able to provide students with an audience, and an authentic reason to publish, is a very powerful motivator. Certainly something that we could leverage more extensively. 

These were my excursions. We also have had several incursions where we have shared experiences with visiting educators. These too have provided rich collaborative opportunities. It has been a very busy few weeks and we have learned a great deal which will help to improve our learning environment. 

Two Days in Brisbane – Edutech 2014


I attended the 2014 Edutech Conference in Brisbane again this year.

In the past I have really enjoyed this conference. The calibre of the speakers is always excellent. This year was no exception. The lineup included Sir Ken Robinson, Sugata Mitra, Ewan McIntosh, Ian Jukes and many others.

The overarching message was about enabling learners.
#The constant theme, which was continuously articulated by the various keynote speakers, centred around the idea that education needs to change from the old industrial model, with a focus on content, to a model which develops creative thinkers.
#That individual’s needs need to be accommodated more actively in the learning process.
#That the teacher needs to get out of the way and facilitate and enable rather than hinder the learner with old instruction models. Ideas like Flipped Learning, Project Based Learning, Design Thinking, SAMR are potential enablers.
#With the advent of achievable 1:1 implementations schools need to be harnessing the opportunities which the technology brings.

Sugata Mitra’s insights into learning and how digital capacity can enable learning even in remote, backward regions of India was compelling. He stated that research has proven that threat is an impediment to learning and that testing can be threatening. Instead he argued for a Curriculum of questions, peer assessment and certification without examination. He spoke about creating Self organised learning environments (SOLE) arguing that the idea of regimented learning wasn’t the goal, but that collaboration, engagement and admiration were key.

I am always impressed with the ideas presented by Ewan McIntosh. He spoke about agile leadership and the need for schools to be responsive to change. He argued that it is OK to fail. He described FAIL as First Attempt In Learning. He talked about contradictions, tensions and surprises and that agile leadership is about taking these and using them.

Ian Dukes spoke about education in the age of disruptive innovation. He presented a passionate case which focused on the changing nature of the world and the need for schools and education systems to change. He argued that students of today need to be prepared for a very different tomorrow. Jobs will be increasingly global and will be much more about thinking and creativity. He cited the decline in industrial and service jobs and the growth of jobs such as app creation, jobs which will require collaboration and creative thought.

Sir Ken Robinson was very engaging in person. He is a compelling speaker any time and it was great to hear him speak twice during the conference. He argued that just as farming is moving to organic so too should education. He recognised the challenges that schools face from politicians, but was adamant that politicians are just passing through and that the responsibility for change lay with the educators. He told one of his great stories about the farming family who after generations of eking out a poor living on a farm learn that great wealth, in the form of nickel, lay just below the surface. Obviously the intent here is to point out that often schools fail to realise the full potential of their students.

I enjoyed the various presentations that I attended. A couple of the leadership team from Margaret River Primary School told a compelling story. Their presentation started with a parody which set the mood for their entertaining presentation. The learning environment that they have created, at Margaret River, was really engaging and exciting. Their simple incorporation of Caves, Waterholes, Campfires and Mountain Tops as a natural part of the learning environment was impressive. Some great ideas from these inspired educators.

Another speaker Greg Whitby, Executive Director of Schools, Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta also had some great messages. He insisted that schools must innovate to improve outcomes for the individual learner and that we need Curriculum for the individual. It shouldn’t be one size fits all. He argued that Innovation is not experimentation and that we must base decisions on the best we know. He argued that schools should aim to create a positive environment for teachers and build teacher capacity. He sees teachers as entrepreneurs and the drivers of innovation. Learning spaces need to be collaborative, agile, personalised and have ubiquitous access to technology.

It was interesting to see where other schools are in their respective journeys and my impression was that most schools have either geared towards 1:1 or are moving in that direction. This being said a model which isn’t entirely 1:1 may be desirable as it enable greater collaboration (as Sugata Mitra’s work attests to).

It was I thought quite interesting to see where the clusters of interest were in the exhibition hall. I think that that gives some insight into where educators are and where they are headed. Certainly cloud based applications were extremely popular. Office 365, Google Apps, Stile, School Box and MyEd seemed to attract interest. This I think ties with our own needs. Being able to seamlessly move all sorts of data to and from various devices and platforms is a crucial enabler. My school will trial Stile (an Australian cloud solution) next term.
There was interest in innovations such as 3D printing, robotics and alternative furniture and in generalists such as Datacom (Here, I must say, it was refreshing to attend the Datacom Workshop because the presenter was talking insightfully about educational solutions rather than product).
It was interesting that this year wireless solutions, which were popular in previous years, were less of a focus this year. Perhaps many schools have invested in wireless upgrades already.

It was also great to see TeachMeets taking place in the exhibition area at the conference. The TeachMeets certainly added to the atmosphere and added great value to the event.

On a light note, I was catching a Taxi to the airport after the conference and I offered to share my taxi with a fellow traveller. It turned out that she was a delegate at the conference and that she had won the “Grand Prize” – which was a car. Hoping a little of that luck rubs off.


U and i Journeying Together


Note: since publishing iTunes U has been updated and functionality has improved The iTunes U course catalogue is also worth exploring for great content.

One of the amazing things about the iPad in the school setting has been the sudden range of possibilities that have been opened up. One of these, which has great possibilities in the classroom, is iTunes U.

iTunes U is a way for teachers to create courses with a variety of content and resources. All of which can be delivered instantly to an any iPad after simply entering the required course code. The workspace is simple for teachers to work in. There isn’t a huge amount for teachers to grasp in order to start a course. The only prerequisites are a Mac or PC running Safari. On a PC this can easily be downloaded on the Web. Students will need to have the iTunes U app on their device (free to download). Tunes U courses can only be accessed on iPad, iPhone and iPad Touch devices.

Once students are enrolled they can access all of the resources that the teacher has provided. The teacher can add resources easily and students will automatically receive the resources in their iTunes U course. Students can open resources and move them easily into other applications so that they can be worked on.
The iTunes U workspace is also easily navigated and students can even keep notes on topics right there in the course.

A number of my colleagues are starting to create courses for their classes and realising that a paperless classroom is becoming a real possibility.

With iTunes U it is also possible to access free courses designed by other educators. All content in the public course area is fully checked by Apple before being made available. This of course means that students can learn independently on topics which are of interest to them.

Definitely worth a look.

One of the limitations of iTunes U is that the course remains locked to the creators iTunes account. This means that the course can’t be duplicated and adapted by another educator. This may also have implications if a school wants to own the course created and continue to use it even when a teacher has moved on.
It may be wise to produce class or school iTunes accounts if the school wants to retain ownership of courses created. This also would make it easier for more than one educator to access the school course account and edit a course.

Duplicating Courses
iTunes U courses are limited to 50 students. If there are more requiring access then the course can be duplicated to accommodate more students. This duplication could also be useful if a teacher wanted to differentiate aspects of the course for different students.

Below: This is an example of a Professional Development course which a colleague has recently produced using iTunes U.


Change My World


A couple of months ago I undertook a 6 week course on Gamification through Coursera and The University of Pennsylvania (lecturer Associate Professor K Werbach). The course itself didn’t attempt to leverage gamification to any great extent although there were elements consistent with gamification throughout.

My reasons for undertaking the course were twofold. Firstly I was interested in the concept of gamification. Some current reading had been referring to trends in gamification in the broader community, in business and in education. Secondly I was interested in the growing trend in online open education offerings. I was interested in experiencing this sort of learning platform. I wondered how these ideas might these have application in the broader education context?

The course ran over about a six week period and was delivered via the Web.
From the outset I was engaged by the lecturer Prof Werbach. He appeared via a video interface which was combined with a text space for notes, graphics etc. This was a smooth, light on resources, delivery system which was great as I was participating on my iPad and sometimes was using 3G to watch the lectures. The video lecturers were interesting. They covered a range of information, looking at real world examples, Psychology, techniques and design. There were also guest speakers, leaders with real world experience in applying gamification design in business e.g. Daniel Debow, Amy Jo Kim etc.

There were, of course, assessment components. These consisted of online quizzes and 3 assignments. None of this was particularly onerous, but it was essential to watch the lectures and absorb the ideas. Without doing the required learning it wasn’t possible to complete the tasks.

Forums were available where students could meet and discuss ideas. Some of the conversations in this area were really interesting as the participants came from a very broad cross section from across the world. There were obvious challenges for students who’s first language wasn’t English.

Another aspect of the course involved peer assessment. Given the number of students participating (in excess of 80 000) it was a logical way to mark written assignments. Each student was required to mark 5 or more of their peers for each of the assignments completed. This provided some great insights into other people’s understanding and perspectives. The assignments focused on practical real world examples and required students to apply gamification strategies and design.

The experience I had as a student of an online learning experience was a rich one. While the course focused on gamification in a business context the potential for application across education was obvious.

At the end of the course students who completed the course with a grade above 70% received certificates from Coursera which acknowledged both The University of Pennsylvania and the Lecturer Prof Werbach as facilitators of the course. The experience was really excellent and it demonstrated the extraordinary opportunities that this sort of online learning can deliver