Author Archive


Collaboration is a hot topic in many areas of education at the moment. My work in describing and explaining the key changes for teachers as they develop their Modern Learning Practice places this pretty high on the list. So too with the work I'm involved in my home city of Christchurch, as school leaders and the Ministry of Education seek to explore more collabortive forms of 'school' and 'schooling' as they rebuild after the earthquakes here. 

in the video interview above, New York University professor and author, Clay Shirky, explains the disruptive impact of technology on how people live and work. While his comments apply much more broadly than the education space, the principle of collaboration being a disruptive influence apply.

What I get from this interview is the fact that we need to understand collaboration as an organic activty, not something we try to create policy and structures around, and expect to happen.

If we want promote true, engaged collaborative activity, we can do things that will create the environments that will encourage it (Clay's focus in much of his writing is on the way social media environments enable this to happen), and we can also incentivise collaborative behaviours (by re-examining the things that are 'measured' in our system – e.g. ERO criteria etc.), but little is likely to happen where we simply announce a mandate that we must all collaborate. 

This applies within schools where principals and school leaders implement new forms of collaborative teams as ways of organising staff, as well as externally – for instance, the organisation of schools into clusters. 

The second key lesson from Shirky is around the way in which collaborative groups can create success from failure. This isn't likely to be the case in 'enforced' or 'organised' collaborations where failure is often interpreted as a reason to stop collaborating. In a more organic collaboration, failure drives the group to find alternative solutions – ideas that may not have emerged otherwise. 

Of course the critical thing to consider is that collaboration is the polar opposite of competition, and we currently work within a policy and resourcing environment that promotes, encourages and rewards competition in our schooling system. Until there's some serious work done to change those drivers, then collaboration is unlikely to have a lasting impact at a system level – however, it may be the thing that convinces those in decision making positions to do so!

So my call to action would be, as educators, become active in those collaborative environments where you can add your voice to the tide of informed opinion (note the adjective, there's plenty of ill-informed suff out there too) that can help establish the case for change and identify the areas where changes need to be made (in policy, resourcing etc.) It's an election year after all ;-)



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A couple of years ago I began using the promo video for Google Glass in some of my presentations to illustrate the way technology is beginning to become a 'part of us', rather than something that is entirely external (i.e. on our desk or in our pocket). My prediction was (and is) that this sort of convergence will continue, and with the recent announcement from Google about it's development of wearable technology, we see more evidence of this occurring. 

From a technical point of view this is all very interesting, and provides yet more gadgets for the technophiles to eagerly wait in line to purchase. For educators, however, it provides an interesting set of challenges and conundrums. Even now I visit schools that have a 'no mobile phone' policy, posting warnings to students of 'invisible, inaudible or in the office' etc. because we perceive student use of such devices as being a disturbance to the task in hand – learning.

And disruptive they can be – the perpetual texting that can occur, mindless trolling through YouTube or watching sales on Trademe – we've seen it all. But what about when students are actually engaged in their learning, and have no time for such trivia – what use could be made of these devices to support their learning? 

In the past two or three years I've seen an increasing number of schools and teachers begin to promote this sort of responsible use with their students – with encouraging results. I've interviewed students who have articulated very capably how the ability to use these devices for 'just in time' learning has been a real assett to their learning for instance. 

So as we move towards greater convergance, when it will be increasingly difficult to identify exactly when a student is 'connected' via their technology, what sorts of learning experiences will we need to design for them – and what sort of assessment practices will be required? 

Granted, at the moment it would still be possible to demand the removal of glasses and watches as students enter an examination room – but what about when the 'device' becomes a part of the jewellery they are adorned with or the clothing they wear?

In thinking about the way forward on this we should not be focused on the technology and ways in which we can harness or control it in our learning environments. Instead, we should be focused on what we are doing to promote forms of modern learning practice, that foster creativity, collaboration and connectivity – and where learners will be encouraged to make use of these emerging forms of technology to enable, empower and embrace their learning. 

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About this time last year I wrote about two agendas that are driving change in our education system – these are the improvement agenda and the transformation agenda. In preparing for an online course I'm about to teach I put together the short video above that is an attempt to illustrate the relationship between these two agendas, and how they need be working together, not viewed as 'either-or'.

The critical thing, however, is the notion of the 'third place' as the aspiration or goal we must have for our work to re-define schools and schooling, otherwise we simply get caught in the trap of continuous improvement, which sees us doing more of the same, but better.

The 'third' place is where we will achieve the practices required to operate effectively in a modern learning environment, where professional practice is de-privatised and collaborative activity becomes the norm, and where schools cease to be completely autonomous, competitive units, and become a part of a network of provision.

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DEANZ conference logoDEANZ is a professional organisation that I have belonged to for over 20 years. It enables me to connect with other educators involved in the open, flexible and distance learning field – with a good mix of researchers and academics involved. I strongly encourage anyone whose work is in this area to attend – it's a unique opportunity for you can meet and interact with the other professionals from univeristies, polytechs, schools and other sector groups whose work is similar to yours.  

Registration is open for the DEANZ14 conference, “Open, Flexible and Distance Learning, where is the ‘e’ in engagement?” DEANZ14 is the premier conference in Aotearoa New Zealand for leaders and practitioners involved in open, flexible and distance learning. The conference will be relevant to tertiary and secondary educators, including librarians, and those company trainers seeking professional and organisational development that DEANZ supports. You can get more details on the DEANZ conference web site and brochure here and Register by clicking here.


Key information:

1.       When: 30 April to 2 May, 2014

2.      Where: New Zealand College of Early Childhood Education, Christchurch, New Zealand

3.       Registration (now open):

  • Members: $675 inc GST registration (early-bird rate) which includes rejoining DEANZ for two years $120 value).
  • Registrants in Member Institutions or Aligned Organisations: $625 inc GST (early-bird rate).
  • Non-Members: $775 inc GST registration (early-bird rate). 

One-day registrations are also available: $350 inc GST per day (early-bird rate).

  1. Keynotes and invited speakers: DEANZ is pleased to announce the keynotes: included on the virtual panel chaired by Derek Wenmoth, Dr Martin Oliver (UK), Professor Martin Weller (UK) and Dr Terry Anderson (Canada), at the conference: Dr David Gibson, Professor Gilly Salmon, Professor Rhona Sharpe, Professor Peter Twining and invited speakers: Dr Bill Anderson and Sue Roberts
  2. Website:  

Submit a proposal:

The call for proposals is extended.  Non-refereed papers, digital posters, workshops, round tables and exhibitions are all invited for the event. Refereed papers deadline has passed however if you have a proposal please contact Professor Niki Davis.

Author guidelines are available by emailing 

  • Refereed papers. Abstracts of 300 words are invited for review. Please email your abstract with ‘DEANZ2014 Refereed paper proposal’ in the subject line to Instructions for submitting full papers through the DEANZ Online Journal System will be provided to authors. Full papers will be between 3,000 and 6,000 words and will be peer-reviewed. Decisions based on abstracts for refereed papers will be made within a two week timeframe, where requested. Final refereed paper submissions now closed. Accepted refereed papers will be published in a special issue of the Journal of Open, Flexible and Distance Learning
  • Non-refereed papers. Abstracts of 300 words are invited. Please email your abstract with ‘DEANZ2014 Non refereed paper proposal’ in the subject line to Non-refereed presentations will not be published, however any slideshow or accompanying notes will be made available through the DEANZ 2014 Web site.
  • Digital Posters. Please email a 300 word description of the proposed digital poster with ‘DEANZ2014 poster proposal’ in the subject line to Digital Posters (up to 100 MB in size) will be linked to the Deanz website with the opportunity for blog posts to be added by the author and those viewing the posters during and after the DEANZ14 conference. Authors must be able to access the website and post and reply to blogs about their digital poster.
  • Workshops. Workshops of up to one hour are available. Please send an outline of your proposed workshop (including any technical requirements) with ‘DEANZ2014 Workshop proposal’ in the subject line to
  • Round table. Round table sessions of up to 40 minutes are available. Please send an outline of your proposed round table (including any technical requirements) with ‘DEANZ2014 Round table proposal’ to
  • Pecha Kucha. Pecha Kucha sessions of up to 10 minutes are available. Please send an outline of your proposed Pecha Kucha (including any technical requirements) with ‘DEANZ2014 Pecha Kucha proposal’ to A definition of Pecha Kucha is available here or
  • Trade exhibits. Please contact Michael Campbell on

Proposal deadline Friday 7 March 2014 – all forms except refereed papers

You will be advised of the outcome of your proposal by Friday 28 February 2014.

Final refereed paper submissions due Friday 21 March 2014

Selection of presentations will be based on the relevance of the submission to the conference theme and strands; likely interest to conference delegates; and contribution to open, flexible and distance learning theory and/or practice.

Conference strands:

  • Engaging (with) gaming – e.g. real Sims
  • Engaging communities and whānau
  • Engaging collaborations – e.g. work integrated learning
  • Networked Learning Environment – includes design
  • Engaging for e-learning excellence – includes Ako Aotearoa stream
  • Engaging e-resources – e.g. e-library, e-books, OER
  • Engaging (with) assessment – e.g. Turnitin, ePortfolios

Preceding SITE International Symposium in the same week:

Overseas delegates and teacher educators  may wish to attend the SITE International Symposium in the University of Canterbury e-Learning Lab held in the same week in Christchurch.  Two conferences for one visit to Christchurch, see


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I came across this quote from David Rowan, editor of Wired UK on a website I visited today:

Each day, according to IBM, we collectively generate 2.5 quintillion bytes — a tsunami of structured and unstructured data that’s growing, in IDC’s reckoning, at 60 per cent a year. Walmart drags a million hourly retail transactions into a database that long ago passed 2.5 petabytes; Facebook processes 2.5 billion pieces of content and 500 terabytes of data each day; and Google, whose YouTube division alone gains 72 hours of new video every minute, accumulates 24 petabytes of data in a single day. . . . Certainly there are vast public benefits in the smart processing of these zetta- and yottabytes of previously unconstrained zeroes and ones. . . .

Yet as our lives are swept unstoppably into the data-driven world, such benefits are being denied to a fast-emerging data underclass. Any citizen lacking a basic understanding of, and at least minimal access to, the new algorithmic tools will increasingly be disadvantaged in vast areas of economic, political and social participation. The data disenfranchised will find it harder to establish personal creditworthiness or political influence; they will be discriminated against by stock markets and by social networks. We need to start seeing data literacy as a requisite, fundamental skill in a 21st-century democracy, and to campaign — and perhaps even to legislate — to protect the interests of those being left behind.

David's concern about the growing disconnect between the data-rich and the data-poor is a salient reminder that, as we become increasingly immersed in the digital world, the notion of a digital divide is defined not simply in terms of those who have access and those who don't but those also by those with the knowledge, skills and dispositions to navigate their way through the morass of data, content and applications etc. and those who don't. 

The focus in David's comment is specifically on data. We are awash in it – overwhelmed by it. As he illustrates, we are generating it in quantities unprecedented in human history. Schools aren't immune. We generate large quantities in our SMS systems, our LMSs and our accounting packages to name a few. The introduction of increasingly sophisticated analytics applications helps us yield valuable information from this data – but the ability to conceive of and follow through with the development of these sorts of tools, and the interpretation of what they reveal requires specialist abilities.

Imagine the benefit to our school systems if we had access to the sorts of tools and algorithms used to underpin how Amazon operates for instance, or how Google customises search etc. Our ability to customise personal learning pathways for students, to anticipate learning needs, gaps in resources or target specialist interventions would be greatly enhanced. This sort of activity would certainly differentiate between the haves and the have nots in terms of data and data use.

So what are the implications for schools? How might we close this form of digital divide? To be honest I'm still processing my thoughts on this, but a couple of ideas are emerging…

  1. First – we need to consider the concept of what David calls 'data literacy', as a part of the wider concept of digital literacy, and ensure that we are catering for its development in all areas of the curriculum and across all levels of the school system. The goal of developing digitally literate, data-savvy students should be a priority in our student graduate profiles, along with basic literacy and numeracy skills.
  2. Second, we need to agree on some system-wide approaches to data management and use. The e-asTTle tool that is currently being used in schools demonstrates well the benefits that can be achieved when large quantities of data are analysed and represented in ways that allow for informed decisions to be made about student learning. Imagine what more could be achieved if schools became even more collaborative in sharing the data they have to assist in building real-time analytics to help inform key decisions about resourcing, placement of teachers, targetting courses etc. 

I'm sure more will come to mind as I ponder this further. What ideas do others have? Would love  you to share them in the comments box below…

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19srblendedlearningcover200pxwideEducation Week have just released their latest issue focusing on Blended Learning. With all of the initiatives being promoted in schools currently it's a very timely publication with a number of articles providing perspectives on what works, what doesn't and what to consider when thinking about introducing things like BYOD, 'flipped classrooms', pedagogical change etc.

I found the article titled "Bringing Blended Learning Home No Easy Task" of particular relevance to what's happening here in NZ. The challenges associated with ensuring access to devices and the internet for all students is something that is high on the agenda of Minister Kaye's 21st Century Reference Group, with models of practice emerging in places such as the Manaiakalani Cluster and what is being proposed in Otaki and Porirua where access from home is a part of the plan.

Some thought provoking reading here, and the best part is that all of the articles are available online – so for NZ educators it's possible to access them without having to send for the paper copy. 

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Teachers and school leaders are being challenged to transform educational outcomes, often under difficult conditions. They are being asked to equip students with the competencies they need to become active citizens and workers in the 21st century. They need to personalize learning experiences to ensure that every student has a chance to succeed and to deal with increasing cultural diversity in their classrooms and differences in learning styles. They also need to keep up with innovations in curricula, pedagogy and the development of digital resources. The challenge is to equip all teachers, and not just some, for effective learning in the 21st century.

This will require rethinking of many aspects, including: how to optimize the pool of individuals from which teacher candidates are drawn; recruiting systems and the ways in which staff are selected; the kind of initial education recruits obtain before they start teaching, how they are monitored and inducted into their service, and the continuing education and support they get; how their compensation is structured; and how the performance of struggling teachers is improved and the best performing teachers are given opportunities to acquire more status and responsibility. 

The extract above comes from the foreword to the OECD publication Building a High-Quality Teaching Profession: Lessons from around the World which summarizes the evidence that underpinned the first International Summit on the Teaching Profession held in New York in March 2011.

The status of teachers within a community/country has been identified in the OECD work as a common characterisic of those countries where student achievement is highest. Since the publication of this report there has been much written and acted upon in OECD countries around the world, including New Zealand, to help raise the status of the teaching profession in order to attract and retain the very best teachers we can. The announcements made earlier this year by the New Zealand government of plans to recognise the contribution of our best teachers is premised on this objective. 

Whether we agree with the strategy or not, the fact does remain that we are suffering in New Zealand from teaching being regarded as a lower status job, indeed, seldom referred to as a profession in many circles.

When I was training to be a teacher (last century!) I recall we had a long debate in one of our education classes on whether teaching is in fact a profession. This led to rigorous examination of the 'hallmarks of a profession' (For an expanded list see here), and an analysis of whether teaching met these or not. Consider the following list of the commonly cited traits of a profession (distinguishing a profession from other occupations)…

  1. skill based on abstract knowledge, 
  2. provision for training and education, usually associated with a university,
  3. certification based on competency testing, 
  4. formal organization, 
  5. adherence to a code of conduct,
  6. altruistic service.

Within these (4 & 5 above in particular), professions are usually identified by the autonomy they exercise in terms of maintaining the integrity of the knowledge and actions of their members, including the induction of new members into the profession. In terms of what sets them apart, many would argue that it is the monopoly over a body of theoretical knowledge which is the most fundamental characteristic of professionalism because it creates the need for the other elements. 

Also to consider is the fact that the conditions under which teachers carry out their professional tasks have changed significantly in the past couple of decades, so that the predominant pattern is no longer that of the free practitioner in the provision of services, but that of the salaried specialist in a large organization, where the determination over things like the national educational goals, national curriculum, national standards etc. reflect the tension between a government taking action to address issues of national significance (in their view), and the profession acting with autonomy and professional knowledge to address the same things. 

This tension is highlighted for me as I read the announcement from the UK earlier last week, about the establishment of new teachers' body that aims to advise the government there on curriculum development. The sub-heading for the articles states that "the proposed College of Teachers will seek greater autonomy for teaching profession and reclaim ground from government".

Some quotes from teachers reported in response to this initiative suggest this is a positive move..

"Simply bumbling through for a four year political cycle is not appropriate and does little but cheapen the profession and the education that can be provided."

 "It makes much more sense for excellent teachers to be at the forefront of driving standards forward than policy makers who are usually looking in from the outside with no real experience of teaching."

However, several of the comments made in response to the article aren't as wildy enthusiastic, reflecting the divide that exists as we struggle to justify the status of the teaching profession in society. Here are a few selected ones to illustrate:

"Typical state teachers. They want the funding, juicy pensions, bags of holidays and early retirement but accountability? No. They hate politicians, policy makers and the govt. Teachers call it interference, I call it accountability. Leave teachers alone and you end up with sliding results.. "

"Next thing you know teachers will be getting input into what goes on in schools – acceptable student behaviour, setting curriculum, student testing, etc. How absurd!"

"oh dear oh dear oh dear – all we need is teachers getting more autonomy …again….the lunatics take over the asylum. here we go ..>> back to the 70s – teachers decide content, methodology, assessment….i was there – i KNOW what happened"

So the issue is indeed complex. There is no doubting that the status of the profession requires improvement. While I support the introduction of strategies such as has been announced here in NZ, it will take significantly more than this to achieve the raising of the status of the profession in order to regain the trust of the community, and to attract and retain high quality teachers within it as identified as being so important in the OECD research. This must start with those of us in the 'profession' itself, taking greate professional responsibility for the things that matter, and demosntrating professional responses to the various political and societal pressures that impinge on our practice. We must also demonstrate a professional approach to workling together to re-think and re-imagine what the nature of our profession and our professional context(s) might be like in the future. 

I'd like to suggest three reasons why the status of teachers as a profession is losing ground at the moment (aside from the obvious political ones):

  1. Education levels rising among the general public (everyone is an expert nowadays, or has access to expertise to challenge that of the teaching professionals).
  2. ICTs are  becoming increasingly sophisticated, providing access to specialist information/knowledge and programmes of learning (thus taking away the teachers' monopoly on knowledge).
  3. New occupations of para-professionals cutting into the teaching professionals' knowledge monopoly.

Consequently, the whole question of whether teaching is a profession, or can become one, is a bit of a red herring. The real issue is the degree to which teachers can resist deskilling and maintain some measure of autonomy within the schooling system. For that to happen I believe we need a complete re-think about what our schooling system might be like as we sail merrily into the 21st century using 20th Century models of thinking supported by a 20th century Education Act that fails to place the learner at the centre of all subsequent policy and resourcing decisions. 

But that's a post for another day…


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This story titled Teacher Colleges Seek to Shift to Digital Age appeared in my inbox this morning, and I felt myself sighing as I read it. The story is about Clemson University in South Carolina, where faculty are introducing a number of initiatives into their pre-service teaching programmes to encourage students to make greater use of digital technologies. The article observes…

Those strategies reflect a shift underway at some teacher colleges that are working to revamp their programs to improve the technology literacy of future educators—and address what many see as a major shortcoming in the profession.

You'll have to excuse my cynicism, but I found myself checking the date-stamp of the article to check that I wasn't reading something that should have been news two decades ago! 

As a school principal in the 1980s I introduced computers into my school, recognising then that digitl technologies were going to change the world that my students would be growing up into, and that enabling them to become familiar with how computers could enhance their ability to work with information and communicate with others (yes, before the Internet we used StarNet!) was going to be an essential competency in their lives. 

Following that I spent all of the 1990s working as a lecturer in educational technology at a pre-service teacher education institution. In that time I saw the introduction of computer labs, the Internet and digital photography as a part of the courses taught there. That particular institution has been running a 'digitial classroom' for more than a decade. 

Yet somehow there remains the perception that our pre-service teachers still aren't being prepared with the 'technology literacy' they'll require to teach effectively in the digital age. I hear the comment often expressed by NZ school principals where every effort has been made to integrate digital technologies into the classroom programmes in their school, but they find it difficult to recruit new teachers who are sufficiently 'digitally literate' to seamlessly embrace these practices. 

For me the problem needs to be addressed more broadly than simply confining attention to initial teacher education programmes (although they certainly need to be in the mix) – we need a more comprehensive system-wide 'kick in the pants' to accept that digital literacy is indeed an essential competency for all teachers and students in our third millennium education system.

Four decades after the first computers began appearing in classrooms why is it still news that our teacher ed programmes are now "seeking ways" to address this "shortcoming in the profession"?

Perhaps a clue lies in the final comment in the article…

Those charged with helping teachers weave technology into their instruction say doing so will take time, given that change doesn't necessarily come easily to colleges and universities steeped in tradition.

"This is all still fairly new for a lot of us in higher ed.," said Ms. Herro of Clemson. "The idea that we no longer hold all the expertise is hard to accept."

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I've spent every day this week in a variety of schools working with staff on their teacher only days before their students return to full time instruction. I have to confess that I really love this part of my job – it provides an opportunity to reconnect with that part of the 'chalk-face' where you see the passion and enthusiasm that exists within our profession, where plans are made for improving what is done for students, new ideas embraced and developed etc.

One part of the culture of schools that is evident in the schools I've been working with is the ability of teachers to act with good humour in times when the reality for them is that they're facing enormous change, mostly as a consequence of externally imposed pressures. This morning I was at a school where the principal used the clip above as a way of breaking the ice with his staff on their first day back. He coud do so, of course, because the portrayal of the principal in the clip is the antithesis of how he is percieved by his staff. The ruse worked, and after some good-hearted leg-pulling and banter, we got down to work together on some serious and challenging planning as the staff of this particular school prepare to move out of their existing earthquake-damaged buildings into a soon-to-be-completed modern learning environment. 

I guess my reflection today is on the value of relationships within staff, and the importance of humour as a means of ensuring that, in the midst of what can often seem an overwhelming and insurmountable task, we can laugh at ourselves and find humour in the circumstances. 

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CC seminars 2014

With the support of our partners InternetNZ, Creative Commons Aotearoa New Zealand is hosting three free introductory sessions to Creative Commons licensing in New Zealand schools. Come along to learn everything you need to know about Creative Commons licensing and Creative Commons policies for NZ schools.

The format of the event will be a series of ‘lightning talks’ of eight minutes per speaker, leaving plenty of time for questions and discussion. Coffee, tea and sandwiches will be provided.

To register for these free events, fill out the form on the Creative Commons Licensing for NZ schools website.

If you want to help advertise these events, please download the A4 flyer.

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