Category Archives: conference entry

Growing up digital

I presented a workshop this morning at the NZ Commerce and Economics Teachers Association conference here in Christchurch. The topic was 'growing up digital' and the focus was on developing understandings about how the world of our learners has been and is being shaped by their interactions with technology, and how this in turn is shaping their expectations as learners. The slideshow is represented above. 

One of the topics raised in the workshop discussion was the issue of attention span, and the observation that many of our students appear to be less focused on going 'deep' into their studies, preferring instead to glean ideas from a wide variety of sources from which they gather only superficial understandings. This notion is consistent with what Nicholas Carr has written about in his book "The Shallows" (see video at

This is certainly an area of concern that needs to be addressed in our staff rooms and professional learning meetings. Not as an excuse to condemn or criticize the use of technologies by the young people, rather, it needs to be used as a rallying call for educators to work together to plan how best to address the issue – how to leverage the considerable benefits and potential of such wide access to information, with the need to ensure there is depth to our engagement with it when and where it matters.

Thinking strategically about technology in schools


I had the privilege of attending the NZ Christian Schools Educ8NOW conference held at Elim Christian College today, where I presented a couple of workshops and hosted two 'connect' sessions for general discussion. My workshops focused on strategic issues – the first around how we can strategically plan our school's professional learning and development programme so that it caters for both personal needs and helps us achieve school wide goals. The second workshop was on using a pedagogical decision making model to support our thinking about technology investment, to ensure anything we do actually supports the teaching and learning in our schools and classrooms, as opposed to being introduced independent of that sort of thinking. 

My two presentations are available on Slideshare, and are linked from the presentations tab on this blog, and also from the links below:

Using a Concerns-based adoption model to plan effective PLD in your school

Using a pedagogically driven decision making process to make informed technology investment decisions


Prepared for life?

Here at the CoSN conference in San Diego there is much talk about the Common Core standards that are being implemented in the US, and how a strict adherence to meeting these can and is stifling creativity and flexibility in educaiton. The same debate is going on in NZ over the implementation of national standards. My own view is that national standards can be helpful to our education system, if the main purpose is to provide general guidelines about what students should know and be able to do as they progress through school. Their purpose should be to act as an aspiration defining what schools are expected to do, not not as a demand for compliance by teachers. Sadly, the latter perspective currently dominates in practice.

During my brief time here in San Diego I have had the privilege of visiting two local schools, High Tech High and The Met School. Both of these schools place a high priority on preparing students for life, and have stong links with community and business as a part of their curriculum. At the Met, for instance, students spend two days per week in their 'internships' working in local businesses to apply and further develop the things they are learning in school in an authentic context. Both schools still meet their requirements for assessing students against the national standards, but each works with a more aspirational focus for their students rather than being driven by the compliance agenda. 

The video at the top of this post provides a cynical illustration of what can happen if we allow our education system to be driven by the standards agenda, rather than using a standards framework as a guide to what students should knoe and be able to do as they progress through school. 

Defining what’s important

I've just finished four days of learning and forming relationships at the AESA Annual Conference held in Tampa, Florida. It has been a great opportunity to engage with over a thousand educators from all over the US who are providing in very similar services to education as we are at CORE in New Zealand. 

There's lots still to process and bring together as I reflect on what I've learned, partucularly the stimulating keynote presentations, each providing messages that were both inspirational and aspirational, connecting with the passion and commitment of everyone in the room for their work in supporting schools, teachers and students. 

 Marcia Tate delivered a top notch presentation highlighting strategies we can use to connect with learners, modelling everything she was talking about in explicit and understandable ways – including the use of humour, story telling, scaffolding, music etc.

Rob Mancebelli's presentation was a well-argued case for 21st century learning, highlighting the imperatives for change and providing practical illustrations of how to achieve this.

Manny Scott used his personal life story to connect with us emotionally, and engage with us intellectually, and to emphasise the significance of an effective teacher in the lives of young learners. 

While the tone of these keynotes helped flavour much of my experience of the conference, the 'other side' of what is the current reality in the US system wasn't far beneath the surface in most presentations – specifically the focus on Common Core (standards) and moves to link teacher performance with student achievement

The trades hall at the conference was packed with companies offering online solutions to monitor and manage student achievement in relation to the standards in the Common Core, automated teacher evaluation processes, accountability and performance software (for teachers and students), and content providers who have 'packaged' learning into bite-sized amounts to be 'delivered' to students via the latest online learning systems, designed specifically to monitor and evaluate student engagement and achievement. 

The apparent 'discord' between the aspirational messages of the keynotes and the pragmatic requirements of the current reality posed a tension for me that I felt throughout the conference.

At the heart of the dilemma here is the challenge for educators to define what is important, and to ensure then that the system and all of the support mechanisms involved work together to help achieve this. Here is where I strike competing philosophies – on the one hand, the narrowing of curriculum to those things deemed to be important (and measurable), and on the other, a broader view of developing the whole child with skills, knowledge and competencies that will enable them to participate fully in the world of the 21st Century. 

In his keynote, Rob Mancebelli referred to the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) position statement on 21st Century literacies, which states that 21st century readers and writers will need to:

  • Build relationships with others to pose and solve problems collaboratively and cross-culturally
  • Design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of purposes
  • Develop proficiency with the tools of technology
  • Design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of purposes
  • Manage, analyze and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information
  • Create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multi-media texts
  • Attend to the ethical responsibilities required by these complex environments multiple streams of simultaneous information

As aspriational (and necessary) as these things are, they aren't the sorts of things that get reported on in most standards-based assessments, as they're not the sorts of things that can easily be measured using multi-choice tests or other summative forms of assessment. I'm not going to argue that we don't need to keep a close eye on the fundamentals of literacy and numeracy, but we can't afford to make that our only focus in education. We have to look beyond 'the basics' and 'skills' level competencies – as a recent NYT article reminded me, Skills don't pay the bills any longer, highlighting the importance of critical thinking and problem solving in the modern workplace.

I'm sure I'll get time to reflect on this some more as I prepare to fly back home to NZ where the situation isn't terribly much different – it's just that we don't have the legislation in place to make this all a requirement – yet!

Coming to ICOT??

On the final day of the ICOT conference in Belfast in 2011 I had the privilege of accepting the offer and inviting all those gathered to reconvene in New Zealand from 21-25 January 2013. I'd now invite you to join me at the International Conference on Thinking in Wellington where I will be among those who are speaking!

This is an opportunity to hear from cutting edge thinkers, researchers and practitioners who are drawn from such fields as education, health sciences, the arts, sciences, sports, government and business.

The Conference themes of 'Future survival', 'Future society' and 'Personal futures' impact on everyone, from all disciplines.

Over the five days of the conference you can participate in full day master classes run by invited speakers. Listen to the world leading keynote and featured presenters and participate in a stimulating programme of over 250 presentations and workshops. Combine this with a magical 'tour' programme, artistic performances, two receptions, a conference gala dinner, and you are sure to have an unforgettable experience. In the lead up to the conference you can keep up with news and related items on the conference blog.

ICOT2013 is being organised by CORE Education, and supported by Massey University of New Zealand

Check out the conference here

Anticipating the new term

I've been sitting here this evening doing some preparation for the week ahead, reflecting on the ULearn experience and watching the twitter feed coming through for the #ULearn12 comments when I noticed an interesting trend. Among the tweets appearing regularly through the day are ones such as those I've captured below – from teachers who have attended the ULearn conference and are now excited with the anticipation of being able to take the things they've learned back into their schools and classrooms. How heartening to see this sort of comment! Surely the test of effective PD comes where individuals who participate in it are motivated to act, to implement, to inspire others…

Can schools prepare you for anything?

I had the pleasure a couple of weeks ago of attending the 2012 Graham Nuthall Annual Lecture at Canterbury University where I heard Guy Claxton present an engaging talk titled 'Can Schools Prepare You For Anything?' His abstract read:

Traditional education aims to raise standards by any means, but we are coming to see that preparing young people for tests, and preparing them for life, are different goals. How do we deepen learning so that it systematically builds the learning dispositions that the next generation will need? As work on ‘key competencies’ and ‘21st century skills’ evolves it is becoming clearer just what it takes to raise standards in a way that helps kids be ready for anything.

In Guy's typical provocative and well informed style, he challenged us to think more critically about many of the things we're carrying forward from our traditional education system, and to think more creatively about how we might conceive of and implement a truly 21st century approach where we maintain the focus on a future-focused curriculum as well as raising standards for learners.

As with all of these sorts of talks, there was so much to take in and reflect on, but thanks to the team at EdTalks we can all enjoy the change to view Guy's talk again and engage in a bit of 'rewind learning'!

NZEALS conference presentation

Today I had the opportunity to make a presentation to the NZEALS conference being held in Tauranga. I was in Wellington at the time, participating in the DEANZ conference, but took the opportunity to make the link to Tauranga via video conference (thanks to the folks at asnet). 

The NZEALS committee had asked me to share my thinking about the future direction for education in NZ, focusing on blended learning, the role of online communities of practice in this, and the emergence of networked schooling models.

The essence of my message was that we must move our thinking beyond the autonomous, self-manging schools model of Tomorrows Schools, and look to a system model of Networked Schooling if we're to achieve a future-focused education system that is robust and responsive to the needs of 21st Century learners. I outlined how this is already happening in New Zealand with the emergence of school clusters using video conferencing and other technologies to share classes, resources and staffing, but that this activity has now reached the point where it needs more systemic support in terms of policy change and changes in leadership style and approach. 

Back at the DEANZ conference we were having some similar discussions, with the establishment of a schools special interest group (SIG) within DEANZ which will aim to focus attention on supporting the development of open, flexible and distance educaiton practices in the various school networks and clusters that are emerging here – and linking with similar initiatives in Australia through our links with AADES there. 

Guest lecture opportunity – Diana Oblinger

If you're in Wellington on the evening of  Wednesday 11 April with nothing else planned here's a great opportunity to hear a speaker renowned internationally for her research and ideas about online learning. 

Diana Oblinger will be in New Zealand to participate in the Distance Education Association of New Zealand's (DEANZ) biannual conference, being held in Wellington from 11-13 March.

Event details…

Date: Wednesday 11 April, 2012

Time: 6.00-7.00pm

Location: Renouf Foyer, Michael Fowler Centre, 111 Wakefield Street

Price: $40 + GST

Download the flyer for more information, or register online for this event.

DEANZ conference coming up – plan to attend

The biennial conference of the Distance Education Association of New Zealand is being held in April this year at Te Papa in Wellington. As a member of the DEANZ exec and organising committee, it's excting to see the lineup of conference speakers and delegates. While not usually a 'big' conference, this is an opportunity for those with an interest in sharing experiences and pursuing understandings of open, flexible and distance education to do so in a more intimate environment. 

Featured speakers at this year's conference include:

  • Professor Paul Bacsich – Canterbury fellow visiting the University of Canterbury e-Learning Lab in 2012
  • Professor Kwok-Wing Lai – Professor of Education, University of Otago
  • Dr Diana Oblinger – President and CEO of EDUCAUSE
  • Dr Caroline Seelig – Chief Executive, Open Polytechnic of New Zealand
  • Ken Kay – CEO EdLeader21 (joining by video conference

This is a great line-up, and along with the myriad of workshops and paper presentations, will make this a very stimulating conference as we've enjoyed in previuous years

Registrations are still open – and with the growth of interest in open, flexible and distance learning in all areas of the educaiton sector in New Zealand, this will provide an excellent opportunity to engage with others in the field, to go beyond the fascination in the tools and technology, and delve deeply into the issues around the changes we're seeing in our education system as these practices are adopted more widely. 

I'm also the convenor for the DEANZ award which will be presented at the conference. Applications are still open for the 2012 DEANZ award, which is open to individuals or groups in New Zealand, or New Zealand citizens living overseas, who have completed a project that meets the criteria of the Award. Awards are given for projects that;

  • Advance understanding of best practice in e-learning, distance, open and flexible learning in New Zealand.
  • Are original or innovative in concept or application.
  • Are relevant to and whose outcomes are useful to the e-learning, distance, open and flexible-learning community.

Applications for the DEANZ Award 2012 should be linked to the conference theme. Interpretations of the theme will be broad, but should include reference to one or more of…

  • Resilience
  • Relevance
  • Reform

For further details download the guidelines and application form – you've still got a fortnight before applications close 😉