Saturday, 11 March 2017

Changes in Practice: Inputs, Outputs and the Black Box

Input and output refer to the interfaces that different functional units of a system use to communicate among each other, or to the signals sent through those interfaces.  Inputs are the signals received by the unit, and the outputs are the signals sent through it.  The black box is considered to be something whose function is invisible, a space that is hidden, where the transformation takes place (Chauhan, 2013).  In this analogy, I like to think of the black box as my mind, learning, analysing and reflecting on the multitudes of inputs the Mindlab course has exposed me to, transforming my practice and student outcomes as an observable output.   We have been exposed to experiences, professional literature, research, flipped learning initiatives, instructional videos, collaborative webinars, infographics, presentations, a multitude of social media platforms and so much more.  Swain (1985) pointed out that there is no better way to test the extent of one's knowledge than to have to use that knowledge in some productive way, and the intensive nature to use the course to examine and improve our practice has been testament to this. 

What this model does not explicitly show is the fundamental importance that interaction has had on my transformation.  It is through interaction that we have generated comprehensible outputs, which can then also be turned into sources of input for others.  We have sought meaning, clarified misunderstandings, challenged each others thinking and given and received feedback.  It seems fitting at the end of the course to reflect back on the earlier work we did examining the theories of Vygotsky, who theorised that children learn through interpersonal activity, such as play with adults who provide 'scaffholding', whereby they form concepts that would be beyond them if they were acting alone.  In this respect, the notion of the zones of proximal development is important, which are created through interaction with more knowledgeable others.  The co-constructionist nature of the Mindlab course has certainly added testament to this.  The colleagues whom I have shared this experience with have been a shining light and added so much value to my learning.  Friendships have been formed through this network that will enable us to continue to support each others growth and development as we move forward.

Demonstrating commitment to ongoing professional learning and the development of professional personal practice:
My decision to commit to the Mindlab Postgraduate Certificate in Digital and Collaborative Learning was driven by the acceptance of my role as the Director of eLearning.  I wanted to ensure that I had the most comprehensive training available, in order to effectively lead the staff at our school on their journey to include Digital Technologies in their teaching and learning programmes.  I had been in this role for only a couple of weeks when the intake began, and quickly learned to manage the demands of my new position, various other PLD priorities, postgraduate studies, and support the needs of my 8 year old twins at home - that's not to say it was always easy!  I wanted to ensure that my commitment to this course was reflected in my participation, and embraced each aspect of the programme, participating responsively in all professional learning opportunities within the multiple learning communities that were established.  My own professional personal practice has been transformed through this programme, where we were exposed to the latest research and models including the Microsoft ITL rubrics, design thinking model and TPACK model which have all significantly changed the way I present my teaching and learning programmes.

Show leadership that contributes to effective teaching and learning:
Providing effective eLearning leadership in a school requires the school to have an understanding of where they are now and where they want to be in the future.  The global focus of this course has helped me to incorporate these ideas into our school vision and create our eLearning strategic plan and drive a much stronger Digital Citizenship programme for our students, who we want to become confident, connected, actively involved, and lifelong learners (NZC, 2007).  As part of my role, I need to provide a professional learning programme in which teachers feel comfortable to incorporate eLearning in their classrooms, while shifting pedagogy.  The Mindlab course has also given me the confidence to create an eLearning Network for our CoL which is growing rapidly, and has recently expanded into open workshops where teachers from any of our schools are encouraged to come along with questions or areas where they would like support.

Where to next?
My desire to move further into a senior management role remains, where I am able to ensure that every student achieves success - and use digital and collaborative practices to support this.  I really enjoy the elements of my current role that enable me to coach and mentor teachers, working in partnership to challenge and reimagine pedagogy, and was devastated last year to learn that the National Aspiring Principals Programme was to be discontinued.  After much thought I am still undecided if my best option is to complete the last few credits I need to achieve my Masters (in either Educational Leadership or Applied Practice) or to complete the Growing Great Leaders Programme that I have also heard so much about.  Either way, my commitment to education remains as strong as it has even been, and I am excited about the groundswell that is starting to transform education in New Zealand and around the world.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Interdisciplinary Education: From STA to STEAM

Interdisciplinary practice allows individuals to focus on collaboration and participation with others to find solutions to increasingly complex problems occurring in the world today.  When working across disciplines we can draw on multiple perspectives, practices, epistemologies and methodologies to identify how these can be utilised to solve real world problems.

Despite the best efforts of educators and those who support them, our system struggles to meet the challenging need of today's learners.  We need to cope with complex lives, and social, economic and environmental issues.  Now, more than ever, the education system must equip young people to be the problem solvers of the future.  Our students need to become innovators, designers and creators - not just passive consumers.  They need to be able to solve complex problems, often in cross-disciplinary and collaborative settings.  New Zealand's prosperity depends on our ability to compete in a flattened, gobal economy driven by innovation, specialisation and entrepreneurship.  

Interdisciplinary Education has implications for curriculum design and delivery.  Scrutinising the effectiveness of existing structures is important here.  Some parts of the Education Act are barriers to innovation and need to be reviewed, for example covering the length of the school day, hours of instruction, and enrolment and attendance requirements.  If we are serious about supporting learning anywhere and anytime, breaking down institutional boundaries and allowing far greater flexibility to create tailored learning programmes around the needs of learners, then existing systems and structures will need to change.

You will see from my Interdisciplinary Education Popplet, that I am very engaged in cross disciplinary practices.  This has always been an interest of mine, and I struggled moving to a system last year where I no longer had the ability to work in such an integrated way.  While we still have a long way to go towards addressing these barriers at our school, the groundswell is underway, and is being driven from both the top-down and the ground-up.  This year we have changed our timetable to accommodate an interdisciplinary approach to teaching and learning; having integrated our English and Social Science Departments to create an Integrated Literacies team, and our Science, Technology and The Arts Departments to create our new STA team.  While we do include Engineering and Design Thinking in our programme, the 'E' just doesn't fit nicely into our name ... yet!  It is within this team that my teaching of Computer Science falls.  

This alignment is the first stage in a larger move towards STEAM.  The combination of Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths is part of a global movement, designed to increase economic competitiveness.  Currently Auckland is facing an employment market shortage in STEM related industries, driving a need for a more skilled workforce.  Initiatives within schools have included:
  • providing mobile devices for students (sometimes in the forms of computer labs, and other times in the form of 1:1)
  • after-school STEM clubs or programs
  • STEM curriculum, where projects using STEM practices are embedded
  • BYOD initiatives (bring your own device)
  • STEM days to encourage hands-on exploration within each of these disciplines
  • robotics programs
However, while STEM initiatives are a wonderful start into the exploration of these four areas of study, the critical process of creativity and innovation is missing.  STEAM is a way to take the benefits of STEM and complete the package by integrating these principles in and through the Arts.  STEAM removes limitations and replaces them with wonder, critique, inquiry, and innovation (SteamPortal).

Andrews (1990) defines interdisciplinary collaboration as occurring “when different professionals, possessing unique knowledge, skills, organisational perspective, and personal attributes, engage in coordinated problem solving for a common purpose” (cited in Berg-Weger & Schneider, 1998).  As a team, we meet regularly to share ideas and show examples of student learning that is happening within our rooms, however we each maintain sole responsibility for our 8 week component of the programme.  At this stage we are investing a lot of time in the intentional connections between the different curriculum areas, aligning and unpacking assessments, the creation of a shared language, processes and strategies, and reflecting on implementation.  Our classrooms are spread across the school, and the programme still runs under a traditional model with one teacher, and students are located in an individual class.  I often dream of an STA ILE similar to those at Glenfield College, Northcross Intermediate and Auckland Normal Intermediate, where the open, shared workplace, qualities/attitudes and common goals have enhances their collaborative, interdisciplinary experience for staff and students alike.

Our schools need to foster innovative teaching and leadership, support leaders to make change and stimulate innovation and nurture new and emerging approaches to teaching and learning.  We need to work to implement a coordinated, system-wide effort to align curriculum, digital technologies, property, infrastructure, funding and legislation within our schools, however this alone will not improve learning.  Students, teachers and leaders must adapt their practices to make best educational use of these investments (Future Focused Learning in Connected Communities)

Reference List:

Berg-Wege, M., & Schneider, F.D. (1998).  Interdisciplinary collaboration in social work education.  Journal of Social Work Education, 34, 97-107.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Professional Online Social Networks

Social Media platforms are part of the wider Web 2.0 landscape, designed to promote collaboration and promote user-generated content as we move away from the mostly read-only Web 1.0 of the past. These applications support asynchronous collaboration; the wildly read-write web that encourages interaction between people through sites such from Facebook to Picassa, and Pintrest to Youtube.  These sites and applications encourage users to move beyond mere posting of content by allowing them to become part of the process through collaboration.  In The Conversation Prism, Solis shares the evolution of popular Social Media applications alongside the transformation they have undertaken within the digital landscape.  This infographic clearly shows how far beyond the commonly known, used and favoured applications Social Media now extends, and alludes to the many different purposes for this development.

The user is central to this model, and like Hoadley's CoP model, Solis asserts that you should only create and manage a presence where it is warranted, finding networks where you can gain or introduce value. This becomes particularly relevant when accessing Social Media for Professional Learning and Development (PLD).  Interestingly this model reflects the principles of the three elements Wagner-Trayner (2011) identified as a requirement for a CoP, with Solis suggesting users consider the 5 pillars for meaningful engagement: Vision, Purpose, Value, Commitment and Transparency.

Although created for business, the desire to 'Always be Improving' through listening, learning and adapting is easily transferable to education, and I believe it is at the core of our role as inquiring educators.  

When I first looked at this topic, my use of Social Media for PLD was very easily identifiable.  I regularly use social networks, blogs, forums, discussion boards, social streams, videos, content/documents, events, podcasts and live-casting as tools to support my passion to improve my practice.  These tools enable me to access personalised PLD that fulfills my needs, at the right time.  This is so much a part of my development as an educator that I have created a dedicated professional identity that is now linked to all of these accounts, is observable in this established blog, links to my own professional site, and is also accessible through my online portfolio. This has created a marketable identity that continues to grow among educators working in the digital space, however, being so connected does come with a warning:  You are never truly away from work.  In her Masters Thesis, Melhuish (2013) suggests that one way to overcome this at a school level might be to integrate self-directed PLD of this nature into legitimate professional learning design rather than adding it on, in an already time-poor context.

Although I teach Computer Science and am surrounded in digital tools everyday, I needed to carefully step back to really examine how I am including Social Media in my classroom.  Merriam-Webster defines Social Media as "forms of electronic communication through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content" which is much more broad than I had originally thought.  When I combined this definition with The Conversation Prism, I came to realise that my students are actually engaging in Social Media on a daily basis - despite not having access at school to social networks such as Facebook, Google+ and Yammer due to their age, and our school policies.

My students regularly post to our class blog, labeling their work so it can be easily identified as an individual student portfolio, use Q&A sites (Wikianswers,, location sharing software (Google Maps), Enterprise applications (Microsoft O365), social curation tools (Pintrest, Google Keep), videos (Youtube, Edpuzzle), social bookmarking tools (Symbaloo), brainstorming content (Popplet, Padlet, Coggle), collaborative documents (O365, Google Docs, Prezi), music, podcasts and images (PiktoChart, Canva, Tagul) to share information, ideas, personal messages and other content.  These tools enable me to engage students in active and constructive learning opportunities where they are required to comment, critique and construct knowledge, while working collaboratively to share emerging understandings.  They can support creativity, collaboration, communication and sharing of resources.  They enable our students to share their learning effortlessly with whanau, and help to extend learning opportunities outside of school hours.  

Social Media sites can offer a range of learning opportunities, involve and draw on the experience of people around the world, and provide students with challenges and opportunities to defend opinions and amend their ideas.  Unfortunately, the same sites can also provide inaccurate information, biased comments and hostile responses (Sharples, de Roock, Ferguson, Gaved, Herodotou, Koh, Kukulska-Hulme, Looi, McAndrew, Rienties, Weller and Wong, 2016).  For many students, learning in groups is not a natural process, and working collaboratively online is even further removed.  We need to support our students to cooperate and develop positive interdependence, by arguing constructively and resolving conflicts while maintaining respect and integrity.

Educators need to be very aware of these challenges, and deliberately teach students the skills they require to navigate these complexities.  I firmly believe that our core responsibility as educators is to prepare students for the world they are entering into.  Our students, as emerging adolescents, are not only moving into a world where Social Networking is rampant; they are already in it.  The vast majority of our students already have Facebook, G+, Instagram and Snapchat accounts - yet by blocking access to these at school, rather than establishing safeguards, the work I do to encourage Digital Citizenship does seem somewhat superficial, lacking genuine context and the ability to provide meaningful feedback.

In such a flooded marketplace, I think it is important to take a step back and remind ourselves that while doing all of this, we need to ensure that we are choosing the right tool for the job - and sometimes the best tool for us is time to interact with the person sitting beside us, unobstructed.