Thursday, 27 August 2015

Tweeting Up a Special Issue

Fresh from a synchronous tweet-up with authors interested in contributing to the upcoming Twitter in Education Special Issue of ELDM I’m reflecting on how the issue is shaping up.

Good chat this morning! Well, it was morning NZ time. It was evening in the UK for Sue and afternoon in NY for Jeffrey and in Florida for Simon.  A pleasure to be joined by authors from three different countries at this stage. We hoped the tweetchat would be an opportunity to connect in real time and toss a few ideas around, encouraging authors to proceed with their contributions to the journal and addressing any questions the writers may have at this stage. I expect it is also useful for prospective authors to see who else is writing for the special issue and what the topics are likely to be.

At this stage, authors have offered a wide variety of topics and they touched base within and outside of Twitter. We’ve kept a spreadsheet to track interest. Today’s Tweet-up involved 7 contributors, and suggested that there is active interest in areas such as: Using twitter for PhD thinking;  and Twitter with tertiary students – sharing literacy news and cultivating student-lecturer partnerships in learning. We all got excited about the prospect of revisioning lurking in Twitter as a more constructive practice. 'Lurking' might be frowned on, but it can also be about standing by and observing, akin to learning through listening and positive silent engagement (Sue Beckingham). I'm also intrigued by hashtag agency (Jeffrey Keefer). These indicate an exciting array of topics.

We are encouraged that the contributors are taking diverse angles, involving different participants in research, examining complex social and psychological phenomena, as well as pedagogies through twitter. In some cases, the authors are well underway with writing, shaping their articles. In others, the article will be a chance to turn conference presentations into peer reviewed outputs in a quality Sage journal.

For some, the research is in early stages - starting or generating data. There are also authors who are still thinking about how they might contribute. The good news is we deliberately made the timeline generous for this special issue. We understand and respect the need to take time to craft creative work. That is why the deadline is 26 Feb 2016. We do of course welcome early submission and can organise review in a timely manner.

In the meantime, we would like to nurture and encourage authors, to act as sounding boards for ideas in the formative stages, and to help in any way we can. Our aim is to attract a wide range of high quality submissions, and we are assured that if this special issue becomes too large, there is an opportunity to carry submissions to a further issue. From this point, we encourage all authors to keep in touch – if you would like to talk – skype,, email or f2f, please get in touch. We are happy to explore writing possibilities with you.

Let’s have another tweet up next month. And for those based locally in Hamilton, New Zealand, there is a conferencing opportunity at the 9 September elearning brown bag lunch.  Hope to see some of you there!

Sincere thanks to the participants at today’s tweet-up, a pleasure to virtually meet and chat with you all.


Monday, 24 August 2015

3Ps to turbo-charge my writing: A response to Kearns

While I write this post I am sitting in a Hugh Kearns seminar on turbo-charging your writing. Hugh is a captivating, entertaining presenter. His points, stories, and many analogies resonated with the participants, whether doctoral student or published academic. It is obvious that Hugh is very familiar with the psychology of writing and the typical habits of writers who procrastinate, doubt and avoid writing.

Check out some of Hugh’s work here
Here is an example 
OR follow on Twitter 

A timely session, on the first day of ‘teaching recess’, this session could kick-start some new productive habits for me. Promptly on the heels of my professional goal setting and at the start of a break from online teaching, my main goal is to write more often. Writing more often is a matter of self management and establishment of specific habits. And indeed, an underpinning theme throughout Kearns’ seminar is self managing procrastination and perfectionist tendencies.

In many ways, a motivation workshop, Kearns deals with good habits of writing, exposing negative thinking and blocking strategies, applying cognitive-behavioural psychology to challenge the blocks and lift performance.

I recommend attendance at Hugh Kearns' seminars, as time well spent. I've read a couple of the very accessible articles he has co-authored with Maria Gardiner. I look forward to following Hugh and Maria on Twitter.  What follows is not intended to represent Kearns’ seminar, but rather to offer some responses to his ideas as I seek to apply them to my writing in my context.

Here are my three key take-away messages, in the form of 3Ps:


Everyone is busy, and I really dislike it when people go on about how busy they are! We all have 24 hours in a day and multiple competing demands to juggle and choose between at any given time. In Kearns' words, to prioritise writing we need to focus on landing planes.

If writers are air traffic controllers, and writing projects are airplanes, think about which we should land (or finish) first. Logic suggests that we should land those closest to the ground, and avoid letting new planes take off when the airspace is already crowded.

With this in mind, I will work out which writing projects (journal articles) are closest to completion, and work on finishing them. 
While this sounds simple, it does clearly identify a place to start, is not driven exclusively by deadlines, and means I can have a continual focus for regular writing leading to greater productivity. In the meantime, I also need to carve out writing time that is free from displacement activities, or avoidance tactics, even when these are cunningly disguised as productive work in order to reduce guilt (Kearns & Gardiner, 2011)


While listening to Kearns this morning, I was constantly reminded of the threat of perfectionism. So many people suffer from this most overrated of traits, and it is increasingly clear to me that perfectionism, like the cult of busyness, is a disabling condition, and most definitely NOT the virtue or badge of honour it is sometimes made out to be.

In practice,  perfectionism means it is never the right (perfect) time to start and nothing is ever finished because its not good (perfect) enough.

Pursuing productivity makes far more sense. Interestingly, this realisation keeps returning to me whenever I think and write about workload, as in past posts about smart teaching

I vow to try out snack writing

Instead of waiting for time to binge, I will try to apply the "little and often" mantra to writing. I'll mix in a little other advice I've gained from other sources and try to shift location to increase my focus and productivity. Just this morning as I walked past our student centre, I admired the building and fondly recalled how I escaped there to proofread my thesis some years ago - with minimal distractions and in a fresh and studentesque environment. 

I'll be there tomorrow, armed with a resurrected draft of an unfinished article and a plan of attack, formulated in Kearns' nano-steps. I'll write what I know, and then I'll write about what I don't know, to signal my next research direction.

Will update you in a future post, and I'm very much looking forward to Hugh Kearns' next seminar on Friday.
More details via WMIER

Monday, 17 August 2015

Science teachers integrating digital technologies in lessons

Two science classes and digital learning tools: a snapshot

I have the privilege of working with a local secondary school, and I've made some blog posts in the past based on observations of music and languages. Science is in the spotlight today, specifically a Level 2 NCEA Physics class and a Year 10 Science class.

What's really interesting is not only the different tools the teachers included, but also the ways in which students got to problem-solve using them. It is quite clear to me that these teachers thought deeply about the learning goals first and then appropriated tools to help that happen.

Level 2 Physics

This class was all about understanding the symbols relevant to components of electrical circuits and the theory related to each named item - eg resistor, battery, voltmeter, ammeter, charge, current... She began the lesson, once students had grabbed a Chromebook from the COW (Computers on Wheels), by reviewing information about key words. She then made available a document that contained two links - one to a set of Slides and the other to an interactive site where students could problem-solve how to create specific circuits and answer specific questions. What struck me as most interesting in observing student behaviours, included:
  • adaptive help-seeking: comparing ideas and ways of solving the circuit problems, or connectivity issues
  • playing with the site: creating different kinds of circuits, wondering what would happen if.. and trying it out
  • asking the teacher for help if they were unsure: the teacher could then spend time with individuals on a just-in-time and just-in-need basis
  • a studied silence - the talk was low and mostly focused on the task ahead - and a lot of concentration. Talk centred on seeking and responding to queries from each other. The climate was definitely purposeful and directed at task completion
  • sharing the tasks: some students open different screens to facilitate the task completing as a pair. 
Working together on building an electrical circuit
At the end of the lesson, the teacher reviewed the results students posted in the online table. This provided a great opportunity for students to see how their results measured up with others', while the teacher explained why certain results were correct, while also exploring what might have led to incorrect results.

So what do I make of this lesson? Firstly, the task engendered a high degree of on-task behaviour for a considerably long time. Second, the teacher was able to concentrate her efforts on those who had the most trouble making sense of the task. This meant her support happened where it was most needed, while other students used each other to trouble-shoot. Third, because these circuits were made using an online tool, it was easy to chop and change what students tried out, without having to manipulate physical materials that might take some time to do. The digital version was quick, responsive and simple. Pedagogically speaking, the teacher was able to focus on the most need while engaging all students in a useful and purposeful learning activity, leveraging the affordances of the online tools.  Had the teacher been using the physical versions of circuit boards that schools have tended to use in the past, there would have been a greater shuffling of space, more time working in pairs or threes manipulating and moving parts to make circuits (and how many can be in charge of making the circuits at a time?), and less time collating results to examine and compare. The digital tools streamlined the task by having only one tool that everyone had access to and made it easier for much more time to be digitally hands-on. 

Year 10 Science

This was about acids and bases. In an earlier lesson, students had been introduced to Voki and had signed up for a free account. The day I observed, they were using that tool to create a short explanation of the difference between a litmus and universal indicator, using talking head avatar. This required students to read the information first, then write a version of it for the avatar to speak, listen to it, adjust and edit the text then share it. This means they went over the definitions several times before they undertook an actual experiment with the two indicators and various liquids. This iterative, recursive process is one way to reinforce and cement knowledge that might have not been possible with only pen and paper available. 

Creating a Voki voice message
As with the Level 2 Physics class, students exhibited a range of help-seeking behaviours, especially when some students needed technological help, which they tended to get from their peers. And again, as with the Level 2 Physics class, students were focused, on task and committed to completing it. Lastly, the teacher also reviewed the table of results of students posted, using the terms acids, bases, litmus and universal indicators, reinforcing the technical language necessary for the lesson.  

Comments: So what? 

What might these lessons mean? I think what I have witnessed is two separate occasions where teachers have used two sets of digital tools for specific learning purposes that streamlined learning opportunities. Students were in charge of the learning and tools, and deeply engaged in the assigned tasks. Through the organisation and structure of the lessons, students also got repeated exposure to understanding specific concepts, technical terms and definitions. At the end of both lessons, there was a full class review of results to compare and discuss, bookending the lesson in a satisfying way. On both occasions, students were on task, focused, and committed. Perhaps this suggests that these digital tools offer opportunities for students to both share and work individually while deeply focusing on learning tasks with accessible, easily manipulated tools that work seamlessly with the content of the lesson.

Using digital tools that can support students to deepen their knowledge and understanding while offering opportunities to review and reshape ideas is valuable in school contexts. When schools also don't need to house equipment or replace worn out materials is also sensible. The manipulation of physical tools and materials might mean learning happens differently from when the tools are digital. However,  the same content knowledge might be learned less arduously when the tools are digital. That is certainly the message students convey.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Post-script: Cross-cultural social media

Having just come from the elearning brown bag lunch on social media in China and NZ I am reflecting on the examples shared over lunch, and the learning I gained.

Among other things, I learned that WeChat is by far the most popular social media form in China, according to our guests. WeChat, available in iTunes, is an app for iPhone and iPad (as well as Android, Blackberry and so on), which suits Chinese users who appreciate the mobile convenience. According to iTunes, WeChat is free, enables free txts, voice and video calls, group chats with up to 500 people, along with gaming and language support.

With half a billion users, WeChat has a blog and a series of Facebook pages.
What is very clear is that WeChat has global appeal and is extraordinarily popular in the Asia Pacific region but does not yet have a significant profile in New Zealand. There are indications that it may be taking hold as a marketing tool for engaging Chinese stakeholders.

How do our guests from ZUCC and HEBUST use WeChat?

The app is designed for micro-messaging, so users exchange quick pieces of information - for example, the directions to a meeting room on campus. The visiting academics also told us that they use WeChat to alert students when their assignments have been marked, directing them back to the LMS to pick up their grades. Others use WeChat to share examples of online content, for example in Design, so that students can follow designers. Teachers of English as a foreign language use WeChat to coordinate debates between teams of students who must message each other in English and use the voice-messaging facilities in WeChat.

WeChat is seen as very casual and for recreation rather than learning by some of the visiting academics. Others are already exploring the learning potential and some may contribute to our special issue in ELDM.
Of course it is difficult for Chinese academics to compare the likes of Twitter and WeChat when access to Twitter is blocked in China. Nevertheless, there is the potential for travellers to try out a wider range of tools while abroad, or to access via VPN at home.

On downloading WeChat it is immediately apparent that I can link it to my Twitter and Google accounts, functionality that goes beyond what is conventionally possible in China.

Having a few problems adding contacts, but will persevere and update.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Cross-cultural social media for tertiary education

When I talk to students and colleagues in New Zealand about social media, tools like Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter are the first to be mentioned. However, in a global sense, the most densely populated social media platforms may be unfamiliar to many kiwis. For example, second only to market-leader Facebook is QQ, with 829 million active users. While Twitter is my go-to personally and professionally, there are two-three times as many million users on QZone and WeChat, which I have only recently heard of.

What do QQ, QZone and WeChat have in common?
Alongside Sina Weibo, Renren, PengYou and, these are a glimpse of the social media of China

I'm keen to learn more about cross-cultural diversity in social media and applications to tertiary education.

On Wednesday, 12 August, a group of staff from the University of Waikato will meet with visitors from Zhejiang University City College and Hebei University of Science and technology. We will meet to exchange ideas about the use of social media in tertiary contexts in our own countries and across international boundaries.

Participants are invited to share and discuss any aspects of social media use, related to learning, research, recruitment, and other professional activities. This is an opportunity to meet with international colleagues and discuss different networks and ways of communicating. While many people use social media recreationally to keep in touch with family and friends, increasingly, the tools are used by students and professionals to network and learn in ways that complement study and career focuses.

There are dangers related to privacy and professional reputation, when students and teachers use social media. There are also great benefits, including:
  • extending learning beyond the classroom
  • marketing professional skills
  • sustaining professional development and lifelong learning.

As we meet during this lunchtime, as part of our regular brown bag lunch session, I hope we'll share, compare and contrast our ideas about social media, and consider:
  • How is social media used in our countries and within our respective cultural contexts?
  • How is social media used in educational contexts?
  • In what ways might social media be used to expand your own professional online presence and learning network?
  • In what ways might social media be used for teaching and learning purposes with your students?

We hope our visiting colleagues might compare the likes of Sina Weibo with Twitter, in preparation for our upcoming special issue in eLearning and Digital Media.

We welcome these international contributions. 
If you are in Hamilton on Wednesday, we welcome you to join us too:

Wednesday 12 August
Seminar Room, University Lodge (ULS)
144 Knighton Road

I hope to share an update on my learning in my next post.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Thinking about learning and teaching in a digital age

I have just read a blog post by Sean McHugh about mathematics teaching in a digital age. He eloquently argues from a premise that 
It's always been a source of great consternation to me, that mathematics benchmarks around the world still appear to be completely and utterly oblivious of the implications of the impact of digital technologies in the world of mathematics
He goes on to suggest that educators in general (and of course he's probably over-generalising) appear oblivious to the impact of things digital on how we understand the world. He asks
Why is it that in schools that are blessed with the ubiquitous provision of digital technologies, one-to-one laptops and iPads, the students never learn anything about how file sizes and the measurements of these file sizes work?
I'm assuming here he's talking about those students who don't do a computer studies/science class. He certainly emphasises the point that perhaps teachers assume "a generation of digital natives automatically gets this stuff" when they don't, and argues for teaching a mathematics grounded in the here and now that looks ahead. He seeks to know why measurements such as kilobyte, megabyte and gigabyte don't feature as much as kms, litres and kgs in mathematics classroom contexts. He suggests that students do "not have the slightest clue about the units of measure that are fundamental to the devices that they rely on every day"

I refer to his post because it such a very good example of a missed opportunity to make mathematics understandable by hooking into students' everyday practices - especially when they moan with questions such as "WHY is taking so LONG to upload/download?' It is surely a teachable mathematics moment! it also links to problem-solving and problem-understanding. 

I therefore have a challenge to teachers - especially of mathematics - how might you be inspired by Sean's blog post to take on his challenge?