Tuesday, 31 May 2016

If you teach, you know isolation....

This is a response to Mark E Weston's blog post . He called his "TEACHING PROBLEMS (And How to Solve Them) – The Shift Paradigm Series" and I've stolen the first sentence of his post for mine. 

I'd like to respond for the following reasons:
First, I don't know much about the educational context he's referring to in his post, or what sort of schools he has in mind, for those are not made clear. For example, does he have secondary or primary in mind? Or both? Second, I'm not sure if he has a particular country's schools in mind either, or if the post is to mean schools everywhere on the planet. 

Some of what Mark describes may be ubiquitous descriptions, such as: 
The paradigm that guides the field of education assigns great value to standardized school days, unidirectional meetings, institutional not personal development, and cookie-cutter buildings. It commits students to age groups, teachers to levels and subjects, and both to buildings and classrooms. A teacher teaches a set of students in a classroom. There she is singularly responsible for how and what students learn. Every other teacher, each in a classroom, is singularly responsible for her or his students’ learning and performance on achievement tests and other academic measures.
The design and organization of your school—schedule, meetings, professional development, technology, and building—reflects your responsibility for student learning. It may support you meeting that responsibility but definitely prevents you from working collaboratively with other teachers. And, if you try to work together, you encounter difficulties. So you and other teachers co-exist. Co-existence is the source of your isolation.
However, when I think of the changes to schooling contexts in New Zealand, I cannot but think, 'yes, but..' to a number of his contentions. 

Let me explain.

Firstly, in new Zealand primary schools for example, there has always been a focus on collaboration in year level or learning area syndicates of teachers. This persists, and is aided by collaborative tools like GoogleDocs.

Secondly, because of population in various parts of New Zealand, or, in Christchurch's case the need to rebuild schools after the earthquakes, new kinds of schools are being built. They are built in accordance with new thinking about how education happens. The new thinking defines these spaces as ILSs (Innovative Learning Spaces), or, in Ministry of Education speak, ILEs (Innovative Learning Environments) or FLSs (Flexible Learning Spaces).

Thirdly, there are online portals here which foster collaboration, such as:
Other aspects foster collaboration in educational research, such as TLRI or TLIF. A brand new initiative to share good practice has just been announced too - the Grass Roots Ideas Initiative.

And a way for educators to collaborate across the country is provided by #edchatnz - the Twitter hashtag used for regular discussions. One of these is collated in relation to the question

Question 1 – Why engage with the community when designing your school curriculum?

 And lastly, I shall give you a secondary school example, which also counters Mark E Weston's contention that 
Teachers who co-exist do their core work alone, all the time, never together. For instance, when one designs a complete lesson—pedagogical approach, strategy, materials, and rubric—other teachers do not benefit from her efforts. Similarly, when a teacher delivers instruction, she cannot share what she learns from her delivery with others. Such duplication of efforts and disconnection of core work is why your workload is so high. It is why you have neither time nor energy to teach well. It is why teachers burnout. Why the field of education cannot reform itself. And why you feel so isolated.
Hobsonville Point Secondary School, a new (state funded) school now in its third year, has taken advantage of the option to resign how the school enacts the national curriculum, and how teachers work in these new spaces. From the beginning, teachers have critical friends who are colleagues they turn to for advice. Also, teachers work in cross-curricular teams developing a term-long big module that pulls together learning from 3 subjects under one theme. Each week, the teachers get together to review students' progress and design the next week's learning programme. In this school, not teacher is isolated or teaching alone. They may plan lessons individually for their curriculum, but these lessons are designed to complement the two other subjects and links to learning outcomes that all work towards.

When they teach, they do so with colleagues present. The learning and teaching take place in wide, open and large, communal spaces. Breakout spaces for smaller group or individual work make it easy to concentrate on specifics and complete tasks as needed. Teachers, like students, collaborate as needed.

Teachers openly blog about their growing learning, as does the principal. They let me visit a few times a year to find out how they are evolving(see, for example, Wright, N., & Adam, A. (2015). The ‘critical friend’ role in fostering reflective practices and developing staff cohesion: A case study in a new secondary school, New Zealand.School Leadership & Management, 1-17. doi:10.1080/13632434.2015.1070821).

This way of operating is now spreading to another school which opened this year (Rototuna Junior High School). It has heavily borrowed ideas from HPSS, and so this open, collective and supportive vision of education has an opportunity to override the paradigm of one that Mark describes. I am currently awaiting review feedback on a paper about disrupting the paradigm of one. I'll let you know when it sees the light of day!

While Mark hopes for change, here in our little corner of the world, it is already happening, and has been for some time. Perhaps isolation is blessing- may be it means we work harder to make connections and support each other.
So what's happening in your corners of the educational world? Anything similar?

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Social Media and the Doctoral Researcher

We (Noeline & Dianne) were recently asked to present a few ideas about social media to a group of doctoral students in our faculty. In such busy, wildly variable territory as social media and academia, this is a fairly big ask as it can be difficult to know where to start. There are a range of commentators already picking out the pathways for researchers and doctoral students to traverse. Here are a few messages we shared, to provide a starting point:

Firstly, it makes sense for each student/researcher to take stock of the social media tools they already use for personal and any research-related purposes. Perhaps a familiar tool could be turned to research purposes? Or it might be time to branch out to explore a new tool or selection of tools. We really are spoiled for choice!


But choose we must, if we are to avoid paralysis, so a purposeful choice is a wise start. 

Why might a doctoral student/researcher use social media? 

Various purposes might come into play at different stages of a research project or doctoral journey. For example, different tools can be used for organising and curating research materials and the range of literatures in the project.  Social media can enable us to connect and converse with people who are exploring similar methodologies, or who are experts in specialist areas. Professional contacts can be made and sustained. Help with writing, time management and productivity, and other practical assistance can be accessed via social media. Advice can be sought on relational challenges around working with supervisors. Social media can be used to access support and to boost morale.

While social media cannot solve all problems, there are a range of possibilities and purposes it can serve.

As a first port of call, we suggest: Blogs and blogging.
Reading blogs provides a gentle starter for those who are new to social media, and there is no shortage of relevant content. Our number one favourite for doctoral students is The Thesis Whisperer which really is a one-stop shop for anything you could want to know about completing a doctorate. Edited by Dr Inger Mewburn, Director of research training at the Australian National University, The Thesis Whisperer is a portal to a wide range of sites and topics of interest to doctoral students and incorporates new perspectives and experiences of doing a thesis with every post. With six years of archives, an ebook, and a comprehensive "more like us" list, there is no better starting point.

As well as reading blogs, the next logical step is to write one. Many doctoral students/researchers find this a good way to write regularly, test out ideas, elicit feedback and build up a bigger picture.

If writing a blog seems like a big step, doctoral students/researchers might try micro-blogging with the likes of Twitter. The close relationship between blogging and Twitter means that bloggers often tweet links to new posts in any case. A good start in Twitter is to find some relevant researchers and fellow students to follow. From here, a snowball effect ensues whereby it is possible to mine the followers/following lists of everyone you follow in order to select other relevant tweeps.

Twitter can be particularly powerful in conjunction with conferences in your discipline or research area. While it is expensive and time consuming to attend many conferences, there is the next best thing. It is possible to follow along some of the thinking of contributors in real time, and get a sense of key themes and reactions via a conference Twitter hashtag. For us, #DEANZ2016 is a recent and rich example, enabling vicarious participation.

Another use for Twitter is to promote any of your published articles to generate a readership. 

Scoop-it - curate and connect
Scoop-it can be a great curation tool for topics. You can follow others' topics or create your own. Susan Bainbridge curates one on Connectivism for example, and Noeline curates one on pedagogy in schools, particularly focusing on New Zealand contexts. You can annotate the items you curate as well, so you can make notes that identify your reason for curation.

Google tools - store, share, collaborate
If you are collaborating with anyone (for example, co-writing an article) Google Docs is a great tool. You never need worry about which version is the current one, you can always check the revision history and return to a previous draft, and you don't need to worry about saving. If you also make it available to work on it offline, you don't even need an internet connection. When you are back online, it updates to the latest version again. You could also use Docs to share drafts with supervisors if you give them comment rights. You then have an opportunity to have an online conversation with your supervisors  - useful if it's difficult to meet at particular times.

Similarly, Slides allows you collaborate for co-presentations, or develop diagrams for your work. If you want a simple survey tool, Forms can be very useful. It saves all responses in a spreadsheet, and it will generate summaries of responses by question, creating pie graphs for percentages for example. For a first view of data, this could be very helpful. The spreadsheet can be exported as a csv sheet too.

Another valuable affordance is the ability to upload all kinds of files to Drive. Folders can help you keep track of files by topic, and the search tool makes it easy to find things again. You can also share items with others.

ResearchGate - find, read, critique, connect
ResearchGate or academia.edu are two services which allow academics to upload and share their own work with other academics. it can be a great way to publicise your own work too. These are also good ways to connect with other academics and build a network.

Up for a challenge?!
From here, if you are new to social media as a doctoral student/researcher, why not try one or more of the following:
  • Set up a Twitter account 
  • Check out #DEANZ2016
  • Find researchers to follow
  • Tweet about your research topic, interests and needs, using hashtags
  • Find and read research blogs
  • Comment on a blog
  • Plan a blog, starting with the purpose and title
  • Establish a blog, draft a first post on your research and goals
Finally, bear in mind that social media is a complement to your research work and not a substitute for actually doing the research and writing! Build up a personal learning network that can help you at various stages of your doctoral journey.

Dianne & Noeline

Monday, 16 May 2016

In a reflective mood: Browsing a 20th anniversary issue of Waikato Journal of Education

I'm currently the general editor of the Waikato Journal of Education, and have been for quite a few
years now.

It's a modest but robust journal that has a rather eclectic view of education and writing for that education audience, diverse as it is (ECE, schools, tertiary) and covers a wide range of interests. THe journal says of itself that:
Previous special issues and sections have included sections on creative research in the arts; Pacific education: research and practice; bodies in motion; theorising pedagogy; Māori culture and education; Māori education, teacher education, curriculum, ethics and tertiary education; educational leadership; and new voices in ethnography. The journal appeals to a diverse readership that includes academics, graduate students, teachers across all sectors from early childhood to tertiary, policy makers and "the public".
On my watch, we have migrated from a print to an open, Creative Commons-licenced publication so that more people can access some of the gems inside it.

Last year we reached a 20 year-milestone. Its initiator and first editor was invited to edit this anniversary edition, which was also launched at the 2015 NZARE conference in Whakatane.

The table of contents of this special 20th anniversary issue is a glimpse of the treasures inside it. Clive McGee's introduction outlines a brief history of the publication, noting that over its 20 year history, over 300 papers have been published. He goes on to say that there are
... about 470 authors although some of them have contributed to more than one paper. Over half the authors were from the University of Waikato, nearly a third from other parts of New Zealand and an eighth were international. Most authors were from universities; however, some authors were teachers who were part of research teams. 
These 300 or so papers address a wide range of topics, and we now have special sections that allow a concentration on one topic while also leaving room for other papers. Over time, the journal will continue to evolve. One recent issue on Mantle of the Expert, for example, was a collection of video articles. That was a first for the journal, but it won't be the last. It may be that the next issue (due out soon!) might contain a few video abstracts, possibly beginning with the special section editors introducing the topic - family literacy - via a short video.

As the journal evolves and is creatively expanded by the ideas from new general editors and Board members, it still needs volunteers to review articles. It still needs authors too!

If you think this something for you, then please sign up. Make sure you also indicate the areas you might like to be a reviewer for - there is a space for that. For example, what kind of research you are familiar with, what subject disciplines you are interested in or research....  Without that kind of information, it's almost impossible to choose people to assign to the reviewer role - we aim for a good fit between an article and the skill set of a reviewer.

And remember - this journal is accessible to everyone, any time, from anywhere. Please dip into it and read to your heart's content. We want you to!

Monday, 9 May 2016

Flexible Learning @ Middle Earth

Elf ears, hobbit holes, Gandalf and the launch of FLANZ...
As anticipated, the recent DEANZ conference was a great success, with record attendance, an inspired theme, smooth organisation, good humour and a whole lot of quality learning through a variety of keynotes, invited speeches, workshops, presentations, refereed papers, speed sessions, posters and informal networking.

Highlights included:

The opening keynote address by Professor Curt Bonk illustrated the changing realm of education, prioritising aspects of content creation and curation, creativity and the need for persistence and grit. Adventurous, personalised learning was to the fore, whilst the key challenges are around quality, copyright, plagiarism, and assessment.

To hear more from Curt, give this RNZ podcast a listen: "This is an age in which we blend" 

The Great Debate, on the moot: That online and face-to-face pedagogies are identical, was hotly contested amid generous doses of humour! On the affirmative side, the team argued for the necessity of key underpinning pedagogical principles that persist across online and face-to-face contexts: Relationships, feedback, effective design of learning opportunities - these are important whether one is learning online or face-to-face.

The negative team's stance presented the ideal of blended learning, contending that online and face-to-face pedagogies are different and can be complementary. Blending the best elements of both is the way forward for quality pedagogy, and it doesn't make sense to blend identical ingredients in any good cocktail.

To focus my experiences at the conference, I selected sessions related to ePortfolios and eMentoring in order to consolidate and grow my understandings around these learning tools and processes. It was exciting to learn of the application of these ideas to medical personnel - as eportfolios are used in nursing education, and rural doctors are collaborating throughout the pacific region. I learned about virtual mentoring occurring via the VPLD with teacher participants, mainly from the school sector. And my collaborator, Dr Richard Walker from the University of York beamed in for a presentation of our York-Waikato peer mentoring scheme for online teachers in the tertiary sector.

My favourite new insight came courtesy of Stephen Harlow's reminder that elearning is environmentally-friendly learning, due to the lower carbon footprint of students who study at a distance from campus.

In terms of practical takeaways from the conference, I'm off to play with eTV and Zaption next, and to review my new copy of Maggie Hartnett's book.

The conference hashtag ran hot, creating a vicarious learning opportunity for those who could not make it to middle earth physically.

The conference dinner at Hobbiton, combined with a moonlit tour of the shire was second to none.And here are some shots of that experience:

Awards were presented to ...
Postgraduate awards sponsored by Wilf Malcolm Institute of Education:

  • Amina Adam: Best postgraduate paper
  • Tahani Alahmadi and Steve Drew: Runner up postgraduate paper

Stephen Bright: Best refereed paper
DEANZ award winners:

  • Donna Dyer for a Mobile Builders - Carpentry App
  • Rachel Whalley for VLNZ (virtual learning network)
  • Lifetime DEANZ Award: Andrew Higgins
  • JOFDL best paper award went to Elaine Khoo

The poster award, by popular vote, went to this poster:

The conference signalled the end of DEANZ and the beginning of FLANZ...