Networked Education

How can we build a future of education where institutions, teachers and learners are connected, not isolated? More »

Modern Learning Practice

What will the future of teaching and learning look like in environments where the focus of activity is on participation, collaboration and contribution? More »


A conceptual framework for understanding how learning activity can be supported and enhanced through the use of digital technologies More »

Layered archtecture

Where do all the pieces fit in terms of technical infrastructure for schools, who decides, and on what basis? More »

A Future MLE

How will learning be different into the future? Have we taken account of the changes in expectation, and the changes in the way learners can engage with their learning? More »


It’s all about access


I've spent the past week in Chennai visiting my sister and brother in law. During our evenings together we've enjoyed long conversations about all manner of things, reminiscing experiences and memories from the past – often triggered by a comment or something we've heard on the news. Things like "remember that last episode of M*A*S*H? - why was Hawkeye being treated for a breakdown?" or "whatever happend to that young Afghani woman whose picture appeared on the cover of National Geographic?"

As the conversations continuted and the questions arose each of us in the group would use the devices available to begin searching for answers – generally coming up with them very quickly, and helping fuel further questions. i

The experience provides a graphic illustration of how important access to the internet has become in our daily lives – without it, these sorts of conversations, or more importantly, our ability to inform ourselves in a timely and appropriate manner, would not be possible. 

The graphic at the top of this post comes from an article in Edudemic titled "how the world really connects to the internet". The opening paragraph in the article reads:

The internet: Not just for first world countries anymore. While high speed, broadband access may be much more ubiquitous in more developed countries, internet infrastructure and broadband connectivity is much more widespread than you may be aware of. Over the last decade, huge strides have been made, meaning many more students across the globe are being connected to the vast network of students, teachers, and the world.

So it's interesting to me to reflect on what's happening back in New Zealand in the lead up to the election, where it seems that the issue of access and connectivity has become the 'hot potato' – particularly in education. Not surprising, as it's been brewing for some time.

Back in 2012 Nikki Kaye championed a cross-party inquiry into 21st Century Learning and Digital Literacy.  With all political parties participating in the process and having full access to all of the submissions etc., there was a plethora of information to inform future political agendas, and all of which provided a strong case for improving the level and quality of access to the internet (and the devices for doing so) for all learners. 

Since the release of the report of the select committee being released early in 2013 we've seen the release of a report from the 21st Century Learning Reference Group (of which I am a part) which suggests ten priorities for equipping learners with 21st century skills and digital competencies. One of the recommendations reads:

Achieve equitable access to digital devices for every learner: Ensure all learners have access to suitable digital technologies, regardless of location, background, abilities or socio-economic status.

Seems like this has now become a key focus of all of the political parties – unfortunately not in the coordinated or cross-party way that we might have hoped for durng the select committee process, but that's politics I guess. 

While we wait to see what may happen with the recommendations from the 21st Century Learning Reference group, the National Party have announced a new ICT advisory service for schools

The Labour Party have identified providing kids with devices as one of their 'hot buttoned school issues', where they propose the provision of subsidised netbook/ laptop for all students to the tune of $120 million.

The Internet Party (not surprisingly as it's their primary focus) has a whole section in their policy on modern schools in which they propose triple the amount of annual ICT funding to state and state-integrated schools.(section 5.2).

So the ball has started rolling, and it looks like support for ICT in education, with an emphasis on connectivity and access, will be one of the things to watch. 

All I can say is that I hope, amid all of the political manoeuvering and points scoring, we don't lose sight of the fact that whatever the strategy might be that we don't end up simply changing things for the sake of changing them – or to simply do something different from what the other parties suggest because it's another party. 

At the end of the day, what I'm interested in is that all learners in our education system can have the opportunity to do what I was doing with my family, where I was able to use the device(s) available to me to access the information I required as and when required (ubiquity!) to help reinforce and inform my learning. 

As the politics of pre-electioneering begins to take effect, let's hope it doesn't cloud (too much) the bigger dream we have for equitable and ubiquitous access – to devices and to the inernet – for all. 


Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) – 2013 Results Published

TALIS reportThe 2013 TALIS report has just been released and makes for some interesting reading in light of the work I'm currently focusing on regarding modern learning environments and modern learning practice. 

This is the second cycle of the OECD Teaching and Learning International Survey. The first survey was conducted in 2007/2008.

The main focus of TALIS is on the learning environment and working conditions of teachers in schools. It offers an opportunity for teachers and school principals to provide for education analyses and policy development in relation to the issues being studied in TALIS.

I always find this sort of 'meta-level' research of interest, as it provides an opportunity to verify – and dispel – many of the myths that exist about teachers today. In addition, it then provides the opportunity to look specifically at comparing the cross-country data with what is happening specifically in my own context. From my initial read of the report here are some of the things I think are relevant to what's happening currently in NZ…

Class Size

This issue reared its head a couple of years ago when the NZ government announced a policy of increasing class size (albeit incrementally), based on research that suggests this isn't the most significant factor influencing student achievement. When teachers in the TALIS survey are asked about class size and whether it has any detrimental effects on their job satisfaction or feelings of effectiveness as a teacher, their responses reveal that it is not the number of students in a class but the type of students (such as students with behavioural issues) that has the strongest association with the teacher’s job satisfaction and feelings of self-efficacy.


Workload is an increasingly 'hot topic' among teachers in NZ schools – many of those dedicated to their profession that I know are working well in excess of the 40 hours a week that might be considered a 'normal' working week. Yet teachers in the survey report that they work an average of 38 hours per week across countries, which could be considered an average work week for many fields. On average, half of teachers’ time is spent teaching and half is spent on all of the other daily tasks that are required of teachers.

A key issue affecting workload that emerged in the report from my perspective is that more than a third of teachers work in schools with significant staffing shortages of qualified teachers, teachers for students with special needs, and support personnel. This inevitably puts a greater strain on the other teachers in the school, and may be linked in part to the teacher responses to the class size questions. 

Collaborative teaching practice

A key feature of modern learning practice is the emergin emphasis on collaborative teaching. The TALIS data indicates that most teachers are still teaching largely in isolation, as over half of teachers report very rarely or never team-teaching with colleagues, and two-thirds report the same rates for observing their colleagues teach.

As we move into teaching in more open, flexible and dynamic learning environments, understanding how to work effectively as a part of a team and to demonstrate collaborative teaching practices will become a requirement of being a teacher. 

In the TALIS study teachers who work collaboratively with their colleagues report a stronger belief in their ability to teach (self-efficacy), as do teachers with more than five years of teaching experience. In almost all countries, teachers who report participating in collaborative professional learning at least five times a year report notably greater self-efficacy.

Professional Development

Professional learning and development has been a key focus of my work for more than 20 years, and in that time I've seen all sorts of 'fads' and emphases come and go – but nothing changes the fact that it is one of the most essential parts of maintaining a vibrant, current and self-renewing education system. In NZ we've been pretty well served in this area, with a sizeable amount of money being invested annually by the MoE for PLD in a variety of areas. 

Yet despite this, the data the MoE use suggests the impact is minimal in terms of raising student achievement – and so we're seeing a move towards channeling the money allocated for PLD towards school-level activity, including teaching as inquiry and clusters of schools working together to address identified achievement challenges

To be honest I see great value in the underpinning intent of encouraging teachers to be more critically reflective of their own practice, and also of the principle of incentivising teachers to work with other teachers in sharing effective practice and seeking solutons to common problems etc. TALIS teachers who reported participating in professional development activities involving individual and collaborative research, observation visits to other schools, or a network of teachers are also more likely to use these practices.

I do have some serious concerns, however, about how and where in this process we get sufficient impetus to drive innovation and to introduce new thinking – transformative thinking, as distinct from simply improvement thinking.

Relying solely on the injection of new ideas from within the circles that teachers operate is fraught with difficuty – surely we need a dual approach that supports and incentivises both ends of the spectrum. 

The reasons most often cited by teachers in the TALIS report for not participating in professional development activities are conflicts with work schedules and the absence of incentives for participation. In general, teachers report higher participation rates in professional development in countries where they also report higher levels of financial support. In some cases, even when monetary support is not offered, teachers who are offered non-monetary support, such as scheduled time for activities during the school day, report participating in professional development.

Distributed leadership

There's plenty in the report about school leadership – such a vital influence of change, at the school and system level. There's been much criticism recently about the level of leadership in our schools, despite considerable investment in professional learning in this area. The NZ government is currently looking at esablishing a new approach to developing leadership in our schools – from induction through to experienced principals. 

A reason that I feel we're waning in this area is that so much of what we do is focused on developing the individual leader, creating a sense of self-sufficiency in leadership and building 'iconic leadership' models. In my view there isn't enough emphasis on the practice of distributed leadership – including how it is modelled at the top level of our system.

It is pleasing therefore to read in the TALIS report that principals are increasingly distributing leadership and decision-making tasks, which can benefit both the teachers and the principals themselves. Principals with heavy workloads who distribute tasks and decision making less also report lower levels of job satisfaction.

Distributing leadership also saves principals valuable time for what some consider the most important task: instructional leadership. Principals who report more instructional leadership tend to spend more time on curriculum and teaching- related tasks and are more likely to observe classroom teaching as part of the formal appraisal of teachers’ work. In some countries, these principals more often report using the results of student performance and evaluations to develop the school’s educational goals and programmes.

Job Satisfaction

Job satisfaction is a critical element of teacher recruitment and retention. Workload, support, PLD etc, are all contributors to this. 

TALIS findings show that, in nearly all countries, when teachers perceive that appraisal and feedback lead to changes in their teaching practice, they also report greater job satisfaction. When teachers believe that appraisal and feedback is performed only for administrative purposes they report less job satisfaction. In addition, teachers who report that they participate in decision making at school also report greater job satisfaction.

Indeed, although fewer than a third of teachers believe that teaching is a valued profession in their country, those teachers who report that they can contribute to school decisions are more likely to report that teaching is valued in their society.

Teacher-student relations have an exceptionally powerful influence over teachers’ job satisfaction. In almost all countries, when teachers have more students with behavioural problems, they report significantly less job satisfaction.


So there it is – a quick summary of key thoughts aligining the TALIS report with the situation in NZ. As the report authors suggest, their data helps to support or debunk many of the myths that exist in our teaching profession. There may be some here that you want to explore further and I encourage you to download the report and read it for yourself, for these are purely my opinions. The most important thing, as with any of these reports, is 'so what'? How will it now inform what each of us does in our practice? How might this data inform changes in our schools or in our education system?

Where’s the innovation

I had the privilege of addressing the delegates at the annual conference of the Independent Schools of NZ today on the topic "Modern Learning Environments: Where's the innovation?" 

The focus of my talk was on how we need to work with our teachers and community to ensure we are able to identify and articulate our moral purpose - identified in the beliefs and values we share, and which should underpin our approach to change. If we simply tinker with altering parts of what we do or have (i.e. the furniture in our classrooms), or get carried away with building architectural delights, but without considering our purpose – or the 'why' at the centre of the golden circle that Simon Sinek refers to – then we're at risk of missing the opportunity of effecting change that is meaningful, sustainable and adding value to the lives of our students. 

The innovation, then, is being able to set a transformation agenda, working from the core beliefs and values (moral purpose) of our staff and community, reflecting the particular character, aspirations and ideals that they hold in common – to move to a 'third place' in terms of how we think about school and schooling, instead of simply swinging on the perpetual pendulum of improvement. 

Of course, we must carry our staff with us – so a special focus must be provided in the area of professional learning and development. This can't be achieved through simply attending the odd workshop or having a guest speaker attend a staff meeting. This sort of change will require a combination of systematic, inquiry-based practitioner reflection and action, combined with the mentoring and support of the 'agents of change' who can introduce the new thinking, challenge assumptions and help clarify the moral purpose that underpins the school's activity. 

I'm currently putting the finishing touches to an online course due to go live next term (referred to in my previous post) that will provide the stimulation for groups of staff within a school to activate and lead change in the area of modern learning practice, by challenging together their thinking and assumptions in four key areas:

  • rethinking learners
  • rethinking teachers
  • rethinking learning
  • rethinking support.

​I'm really looking forward to this opportunity of working with groups of staff from a variety of schools where we can collaboratively seek to find and share our answers to these questions – and from that, build some new frameworks to guide our practice into the future. 

NMC and CoSN Release the NMC Horizon Report > 2014 K-12 Edition

The New Media Consortium (NMC) and the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), with the support of HP, are releasing the NMC Horizon Report > 2014 K-12 Edition at a special session at the 2014 NMC Summer Conference in Portland, Oregon. This sixth K-12 edition describes annual findings from the NMC Horizon Project, an ongoing research project designed to identify and describe emerging technologies likely to have an impact on teaching, learning, and creative inquiry.

2014 K-12 Edition identifies "Rethinking the Role of Teachers" and the "Shift to Deeper Learning Approaches" as fast trends accelerating the adoption of educational technology in K-12 education over the next one to two years. The "Increasing Focus on Open Educational Resources" and the "Increasing Use of Hybrid Learning Designs" are mid-range trends expected to accelerate technology use in the next three to five years; and the "Rapid Acceleration of Intuitive Technology" and "Rethinking of How Schools Work" are long-range trends, positioned at more than five years away.

I'm really inteterested to see this emphasis emerging in the Horizon Reports – shifting thinking to the changes in our practice that are required for schools to be effective in the 3rd millennium. It affirms the focus of an online course that I'm running from the start of next term (NZ) to introduce schools to the concept of Modern Learning Practice – the graphic below is of the course map of this course:


There are still opportunities to enrol if you're interested – more information here

The NMC Horizon Report > 2014 K-12 Edition is available online, free of charge, and is released under a Creative Commons license to facilitate its widespread use, easy duplication, and broad distribution.

> Download the Report (PDF)






Future Focused Learning Report released

FFLearningReportAfter what seems a very long period in gestation, Minister Nikki Kaye today released the report of the reference group that I have been a part of, titled Future Focused Learning In Connected Communities

The report outlines ten priorities for equipping learners with 21st century skills and digital competencies. But it is not simply another set of recommendations about how to 'add' ICTs to what we do in education – it goes far deeper than that. The report builds on the recommendations of the cross-party select committee inquiry into 21st century learning environments and digital literacy,  which drew submissions from a wide range of indviiduals and organisations, and emphasised the critical role of digitial technologies in the lives of New Zealanders as we look to the future. 

One of the most important recommendations we have made in this report to achieve this is the implementation of a coordinated, system-wide effort to align curriculum, digital technologies, property, infrastructure, funding and legislation Integrate the core elements of digital learning with a relentless focus on promoting learning in safe, future-focused environments. Integrate curriculum, effective teaching and leadership practices, technologies, property and system infrastructure.

The recommendations are certainly ambitious, but reflect the emerging milieu and the need to prepare every young New Zealander for living and working in a world that will undoubtedly rely on an increasing level of digital infrastructure and digital literacy.

Focus on energy

energy kids

Occasionally I come across a resource site for teachers that I feel is worthwhile sharing on my blog – today it's energy kids – developed and made available by the US Energy Information Admistration. 

Energy – its production, use and conservation – is a hot topic for today's young people. It will be one of the things that defines how society develops into the new millennium as old forms of energy are depleted and new forms are developed, experimented with and adopted. Our young people will need to be well informed about these issues – and many of them will find employment in energy-related areas, so the focus on this in our schools is very important. 

What I like about this site is that it's a veritable treasure trove of key information about energy, that will appeal to and inform kids of all ages – and their teachers. It's an ideal site to be used as a reference for an inquiry topic, self study or you could use some of the games and activities as a part of a whole class activity. 

I found the section on the history of energy really intriguing, satisfying the belief I have about needing to look into the past to really understand the future. There's a great deal of well presented information here that could provide a springboard for further inquiry. 

On the topic of energy – let's not forget Electrocity, a game-based resource that helps develop understandings about the electricity supply chain – developed by the NZ electricity company, Genesis Energy.

I'd be keen to hear from anyone using these resources.

Planning for effective PD


One of the workshops I presented at the DEANZ14 conference in Christchurch focused on how we can use the concerns based adoption model (CBAM) to underpin the strategic planning of professional learning programmes within our institutions. This slideshow above is what I used for the workshop. 

Priorities for a better world


Continuing with my learnings from the DEANZ conference in Christchurch – we've been hearing a lot about how the use of open, flexible and distance learning strategies can assist in achieving global connections that lead to meaningful and pursposeful change for a better world into the future. 

One of the morning's speakers has been Dr Jonghwi Park, programme specialist in ICT in Education at UNESCO Bangkok. She provided us with an excellent overview of initiatives that are in place to address UNESCO's Millennium Development Goals, with an overarching emphasis on education as a way of addressing this. 

The importance of engaging with communities from around the world in developing a collective view of what is important and where we should expend our energies (and money) is important here. Dr Park introduced us to the MyWorld2015 initative where individuals can set their top six priorities for change, and then become a part of a global community contributing ideas and actions to achieve this. 

It's interesting to note that to date, over 2 million people have contributed, with education appearing at the top of the priority list based on the votes from these people (see below)

myworld graph_s

As New Zealand teachers prepare to go back to school for the new term next week, this site may well be worth bookmarking as a place to take your students as a starting point for some authentic, inquiry-based social action projects.



Motivating and retaining learners online

Bonk_TECVARIETYI've had the privilege of participating in the DEANZ conference, surrounded by a veritable smorgasbord of national and international experts in the field of open, flexible and distance learning. 

This morning we had Curtis Bonk join us by video conference for a short presentation as a part of the SITE panel presentation on teacher education. Curt introduced us to the book that he has co-authored with NZer Elaine Khoo from Waikato University titled Adding some TEC-VARIETY – 100+ activities for motivating and retaining learners online

This book has been released just today as a free download viat the TEC-VARIETY website.

The book's title is an acronym for the 10 fully documented successful motivational principles for engaging online learners that the authors have identified. 

The content is a useful mix of theoretical underpinnings and practical strategies to be employed – making it an essential addition to the library of anyone involved in planning, developing or facilitating online learning programmes.

In addition to print and Kindle versions, this book is freely available to you as an interactive PDF document to download, share, and use both in total as well as by chapter; see

Are we making the most of our ICTs?

Teachers know best

I've just come across this report from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation detailing the results of 3,100 teacher surveys and 1,250 student surveys on the kinds of digital instruction tools that are useful and effective.

The foundation asked teachers and students what they need when it comes to digital instruction, aiming to close the communication gap between commercial developers and schools.

The sample size makes this a pretty comprehensive survey by any account, so the results are worth considering.

One of the findings that interests me is that most teachers surveyed (54 percent) reported that they don’t find many of the digital tools they use effective. That’s partly because teachers often aren’t making purchasing decisions. They say that when they do have a say in tool selection they often report on its effectiveness more favourably.

This simply reinforces for me one of the key dilemmas we have in any part of our educational system where decisions are being made around investment in ICTs without consulting the educators who will be using them. Think of the hundreds of IWBs that lie unused or underused in classrooms, or school BYOD programmes where students stop bringing theirs because there's no opportunity to actually use them in classrooms. 

My point is that there needs to be a clear process of well-facilitated consultation that drives back to the values and beliefs that drive what is happening in the classrooms of any school before significant purchasing decisions are made – about anything! 

And that process must provide the opportunity for the introduction of new ideas, new ways of operating and new forms of technology too. There must be a way of opening up the possibilities in areas where teachers don't know what they don't know – as well as building on their existing, successful and effective practices. 

This point is reinforced for me in the Gates Foundation report where teachers identified the following six instructional purposes for which digital tools are useful:

  • Delivering instruction directly to students
  • Diagnosing student learning needs
  • Varying the delivery method of instruction
  • Tailoring the learning experience to meet individual student needs
  • Supporting student collaboration and providing interactive experiences
  • Fostering independent practice of specific skills

While I don't have any issue in particular with the things listed here, it's what's missing that concerns me. Where is the emphasis on student use of ICTs for the creation and expression of new ideas and knowledge? Where is the focus on student use and ownership of the technology to empower them and give them agency in their learning?

Of the six purposes listed, only one is suggestive of this sort of thing – the other five focus on instruction, delivery, assessment and skill development – all characteristics of the traditional teacher-oriented approach to what happens in classrooms. 

I suspect that one of the key reasons teachers reported not finding many of the digital tools effective is because they simply aren't being used effectivey – by students! In too many cases the focus is on the appropriation of the technology by the teachers to do things they used to do in other ways – not to do new things in new ways, in particular, release students to be creative, agentic and empowered in their learning.

The purpose of the report was to discover how commercial providers might better serve the needs of schools. While I believe there are probably plenty of ways commercial providers could develop products that support learning better, the more significant thing in my view is for us, as educators, to re-think much of what we actually do in our classrooms so that students are given greater opportunity to learn with, through and about the technologies.