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.


  1. I also think every school should purchase access to Academic Databases for their teachers to use, as I have found this access invaluable to transforming my practice over the last 32 weeks, and am going to be really sad to lose this. With a National focus on TAI and research informed practice, surely this is a resource all teachers should be able to utilise! Unfortunately, in my teaching career to date, only one school I have worked in provided this resource for teachers.

  2. Congratulations Ellie on completing your 32 week MindLab journey especially whilst juggling a new position and a family (I have twin boys who are 13 and know how busy it can be, and my daughter is 15). It sounds like your school is lucky to have your knowledge, experience and enthusiasm to lead the way in digital and collaborative learning. Good luck with your 'where to next' plan, it sounds exciting. You mentioned an academic database for purchase. Could you please tell me more about this?

    1. I worked at a school once who had purchased a membership to the same Academic Databases that UNITEC use - at the time I didn't use it as much as I should have, however now that this has become so embedded in my practice, I know I am going to miss having this same access. I'm not sure who purchased it, or how it was arranged, but it was a school account that all staff could access. Perhaps someone else is able to shed some light?