Category Archives: networks and learning

Leadership in times of crisis


Five years ago today, at 4:35 am, Saturday 4 September 2010, the Canterbury region was rocked by a magnitude 7.1 earthquake. The next major earthquake was on 22 February 2011 at 12:51pm. On this occasion 185 people lost their lives.

From 4 September 2010 until 4 September 2011, there were around 9,000 aftershocks and earthquakes. Some of these were very strong and caused more damage to buildings and land.

Schools were closed for about two weeks after the Feb. 2011 earthquake. Over 12,000 students re-enrolled in schools outside of the Greater Christchurch area – almost 16% of the total number of students in the region at the time. Half of these had returned within a year of the first quake. 

Damage to school buildings was extensive, with remediation required ranging from complete demolition and rebuild to extensive repairs and refurbishment.

A number of the more seriously affected schools were co-located on other schools’ sites for periods expected to vary from a month or so to the rest of the 2011 academic year, and potentially beyond that.

During this time and since we have witnessed examples of incredible courage, of resilience, and of leadership in the face of crisis. This includes our education leaders – particularly school principals, many of whom worked tirelessly to support their staff, students and community for months on end, returning home each evening to their own damaged homes and property.

A lot of people believe that the true leadership capacity of a person is tested during times of crisis. Performance under stress can show how quick witted or level headed a person is, or on the contrary, it can show where their weaknesses lie.

The devastation of the Christchurch earthquakes caused an unprecedented impact on the human and formal school systems and infrastructures in the city. This natural disaster created a state of crisis. School leaders were required to respond during this crisis, executing crisis management and crisis leadership strategies.

Of course, this isn’t just about principal leadership. In times of crisis leadership emerges at all levels of the system. MIT Sloan Professor Deborah Ancona notes that natural disasters call on all of a person's leadership skills. She says…

“What is clear is that during such disasters you need leadership at all levels. Executive leadership to devise overall strategy and people on the ground with the authority and skills to act of their own accord when necessary.”

She goes on to say… “Natural disasters demand all these skills, they are important aspects of a leader's repertoire. A huge amount of innovation is necessary, new processes, new structures to pull together relief agencies and all the disparate actors in the relief effort. Multiple agencies have to work together, so relating skills are pivotal.”

Since the Christchurch earthquakes we have seen many examples of this with the emergence of groups such as the Student Army and CANcern, the activation of community groups in leading the restoration of community assets and facilities, to the heightened work within some neighbourhoods to provide support for the vulnerable in their midst.

A recent initiative to aid the recovery of schools involves a partnership between the regional Ministry of Education and Ngai Tahu, working with four provider organisations to design, develop and deliver a programme of support for schools and their communities as they work through their recovery process.

This is what the distributed leadership model is all about: understanding the context in which one is operating, developing productive relationships and networks, visualizing the desired outcome, and inventing ways of working together to realize that vision.

We are evolving towards the view of a networked education system, where models of distributed leadership will most certainly be required, and collaborative approaches demanded. We can use today to reflect on the events five years ago in Christchurch, and use this experience to consider what model or models of leadership are needed, working with parents, whānau and community, to provide us with the future focused education system that will prepare our learners, our tamariki, our mokopuna, for their future – and not our past.


Learning through connections


This morning I had the privilege of joining a panel to present on the theme of modern learning practice in a connected world as a part of the Connected Educator Month here in NZ. Joining me on the panel was a very old friend from the UK, Stephen Heppell and colleagues from CORE, Mark Osborne, Janelle Riki and in the chair, Karen Melhuish Spencer. 

In this post I don't intent unpacking what was said or the ideas that were discussed – if you want to know that then the recording is available here and the thoughts of the participants are captured in a shared Google Doc here and on Twitter here on #cenz14. All has been captured in Storify by Marnel van der Spuy.

What this experience very powerfully demonstrated to me is the principle of learning in a connected world. With an hour together online, a handful of 'presenters' and a few dozen participants all active in the back-channels, there was an extraordinary level of communication and ideas generated through the questions asked and responses given etc. – a true knowledge building community emerging. In reflecting on this, there were three dimensions of the knowledge building experience that I observed that I think may be worth considering when designing and planning for the learning experiences we provide (online and face to face) for our students:

Capturing the soundbites

As the presenters were sharing their ideas in the session there was a constant stream of 'soundbites' being captured and shared via the chat facility in the Adobe Connect environment we were using. Each of these represented the key idea or important concept captured by an individual participant – and collectively, they represent the key messages of the experience, there for everyone to review and construct their own memory of the event from. 

Imagine if we had this sort of facility in our classrooms – where we were intentially capturing the ideas that are regarded as significant in the minds of each learner – and see them shared in this way so that what escaped the attention of one, is picked up by another etc. Seems to me there's something quite powerful in recognising and understanding the usefulness of this activity in the knowledge building process – recognising of course that it's a part of the process, and that there's a lot of revisiting, filtering and connecting of ideas that will need to occur  yet. But at least it is captured – and accessible in a way that previously we've missed out on in our classrooms. 

Co-constructing the knowledge base

The Google Doc provides a different level of engagement. Here we saw the knowledge base grow before our eyes during the presentation – and it continues to grow and develop afterwards as there are people active in it even as I am writing this post, editing and playing with the format etc. 

The level of engagement here goes beyond the simple soundbites (although these are recorded at the bottom of the document) – and makes lots of use of the links that were shared during the presentation to add substance and value to the soundbites used – offering opporutunities to dig deeper into the concepts and ideas. The Google Doc also remains as an archive of the event and the knowledge shared within it. 

This is a strategy that we're certainly seeing deployed in some schools – but there's room for far more of it! The ability of learners to use an online environment that is accessible from anywhere and at any time to share ideas and co-construct knowledge in this way must certainly come to feature as a 'must have' in the repertoire of any modern teacher. 

Challenging the ideas

I also saw the start of some thinking that represents the metacognitive engagement – where questions were being asked in response to something that was said by a presenter, or where such thoughts or 'sound bites' stimulated another level of thinking in a participant. The use of the backchannels to immediately enable people to deal with the questions they have or dilemmas in their thinking is extremely powerful to the learning process – particularly as they are able to be responded to by the community, and not wait in line for the presenter to respond. 

A counter to this is often cited from some who see this sort of activity as a distraction – preferring that everyone focuses on what the presenter/teacher is saying. I concur that it can be a distraction – but I also believe that dealing with distraction and making the right choices about when and when not to engage in such activity is a part of learning to manage self – an important skill for our modern learners and teachers. The fact is that for many, having the question buzzing around in your head as a result of something the presenter says can be a distraction in itself, and creates a 'block' to full engagement until it has been answered or responded to. 

So my point is that the CEM experience this morning has powerfully reinforced for me again the need for us to consider, plan for and embrace the multi-dimensional experience that learning can and should be in (and out of) our classrooms. 

If you aren't already connected – take a look at the variety of events and opportunities that are yet to come through the rest of October in Connected Educator Month.  if searching the calendar of events isn't your thing, you can sign up fo regular updates.

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. 


Changing schools, changing knowledge

As I left home today my son was at his computer watching more science clips on YouTube, looking set there for the day having completed his exams. With my 'dad hat' on I asked if he was likely to be taking time out of his busy 'screen time' to hook up with his friends. With a grunt, he let me know that might be a happening thing – then asked me "did I know what the best way of find out what his friends are up to?" My best guess was "Facebook". he grimaced and said, "No – Steam! – I can see what they're up to by what they're downloading and playing!

My son's quick response reminded me yet again that our young people are growing up with quite different views about knowledge and ways of knowing – and that the kids in our classrooms today are used to interacting with eachother and with knowledge in quite different ways to what we did when we were younger. 

This is the focus of the interview featured above, between Steve Paikin from The Agenda and George Siemens from Athabasca University. In his opening to the interview, Paikin asks:

"We live in unsettled times.  More and more knowledge is available to us, but the amount of time for us to pay attention to it remains the same.  What kind of knowledge will be needed, and in what ways are we going to be acquiring it?"

For those unfamiliar with the work of George Siemens and the emerging learning theories for the knowledge age, this video is well worth watching. Paikin asks Siemens about his views around personalisation and placing the learner at the centre of our education system. They explore together the role of technology in making this happen, and the changing role of the educator in it all.

There's a good segment in which Siemens explains the relevance of learning theory, in particular, the impact of constructivist thinking on our current system, and he discusses the concept of 'fragmentation' and of the importance of relationships in knowledge construction (not simply remembering facts). 

Paikin quizzes Siemens about whether there is any knowledge that should be considered 'core' – key elements of base information that learners should have when they leave school. This is quite topical in many contexts I've been working in recently – and is always a concern expressed around this time of year when educators, parents and students alike question the validity of exams as a means of measuring a student's learning. I thought Siemens provides a paricuarly considered and useful response – our challenge is to convert that thinking into a curriculum that is relevant for all learners. 

The interview ends with a discussion around the question..

 "~Will the change toward personalized education deepen the educational divide between the "Haves" & "Have-nots"

This is an excellent clip to watch and digest (I suspect you may want to watch it more than once) – and suggest you have something handy to take notes as you do so, as there are lots of 'take-aways' and good one-liners interspersed in the dialogue. 

Schools as networked learning spaces

emerging paradigm

It's full-on here in Hamilton for the annual ULearn conference, with over 1400 registered delegates coming together to share experiences and ideas in what is an excellent example of a knowledge building community. 

I'm currently sitting in my room before we head out to the conference dinner, putting some thoughs together for the workshop I'm running tomorrow morning. It's titled, 'Schools as networked learning spaces', and in it I want to explore the concept of how we must change our concept of schools as isolated, stand-alone centres of learning, to being nodes on a network of learning, where all involved are a part of an ever expanding knowledge building community. As such, the traditional time/space boundaries that we currently associate with bricks and mortar schools will give way to notions of a more permeable entity that is connected in a broad number of ways to other such entities and the individuals within them. 

In pondering on this I've made a small alteration to the diagram I've inserted above (which I've used many times previously) – placing emphasis on the concept of a knowledge building community as the defining characteristic of what we might call networked learning.

To be frank, this isn't a particularly radical or even future-focused idea – it's happening all around us right now. Both students and teachers are engaged in a myriad of ways in contributing to and drawing from the various contacts they have in their online social networks. It any of them have a question now it is highly likely their first port of call will be an online community they belong to (e.g. Facebook) or a repository of community-built knowledge (e.g. Wikipedia). 

Our challenge is how we take notice of, then respond to those behaviours within our existing system of schooling, and work together to find ways of not simply accommodating them, but of allowing them to re-define our organisational and operational models of what we currently refer to as schooling. These are the ideas I hope to be exploring tomorrow morning in my workshop (assuming there are people who manage to get there after a lat night at the function this evening 😉

3typesschoolSome years ago I created a table that contrasts the characteristics of our school system in the previous two eras of (a) centralised control and (b) self management, with what I see emerging in the networked era. It's my attempt to describe what some of the indicators of progress towards this sort of environment might be. I've done some editing of it since it was first created and will use that also in the workshop tomorrow – attached here.

Learning in a networked world

Emerging paradigm

What does learning look like in a world that is increasingly networked? How can we harness the ever-increasing range of online technologies to support effective learning? What are the implications for teachers, for students, and for the wider community? And what are the implications for distance education providers as the boundaries blur between them and traditional face-to-face providers?

These are some of the questions I explored in my keynote to the AADES conference in Melbourne last week, in which I explored current trends in education and how these are re-shaping how we think about schooling, teaching and the role of learners. My focus was on how we might respond these questions in order to meet the challenges of learning in a networked world – particularly as traditional providers of distance education in the schooling sector. 

The diagram at the top of this post is a re-hash of one that I originally developed over a decade ago to help explain this convergence. While the concept of 'blended' (or 'hybrid' learning) is emerging as a more common practice in our schools and universities today, I feel we need to be thinking beyond that, to a time when we won't be thinking about the blending of anything (which somehow keeps our focus on the separate entities being blended), but will simply operate in a completely merged, and networked, environment. 

My complete presentation (adapted for sharing) is included below…

Learning 2033 – 20 years from now


Cpp apptx from Derek Wenmoth

Today I had the opportunity to speak to the Canterbury Primary Principals Association conference here in Christchurch. I was asked to provide a picture of what the shape of our schooling system might be like in 20 years? What are the factors influencing this change, and how should we respond?

The keynote was intended to provide an overview of some of the things that school leaders and classroom teachers should be doing now to contribute to this. 

For Christchurch principals it is an important time to be thinking at such a broad and strategic level. With more than 20 schools to be re-built as a result of decisions forced by the earthquakes here, the education leaders in the city have a unique opportunity to re-conceptualise the provision of schooling in the city. I encouraged them to pursue a vision that is unequivocably learner-centred, and is focused on a view of networks rather than isolated, independed schools. 

Of course, such an approch will involve significant commitment, and a significant change in the mental models that we have all grown up with and are influenced by – as illustrated in my presentation by the school room from the Jetsons! In the words of Sir Ken Robinson that I quote at the end of the presentation; "Education is a complicated business… if it were so simple, we’d have fixed it already."


What works in blended learning

Education Week has just released  their second report in an ongoing series on virtual education titled Evaluating What Works in Blended Learning, that examines a number of examples of blended learning approaches  in the US context,  and aims to identify what is working and where improvements are needed.

The initial paper provides a useful definition of blended learning and the 4 approaches described by the Innosite Institute – and the cases studies that follow are taken from a number of US-based schools and school districts to illustrate a range of implementation models from which useful lessons can be learned. 

With increasing interest in incorporating blended learning approaches in NZ schools, this report will make useful reading for principals and school leaders looking for models to adopt or lessons to learn from as they develop their own.

The paper is presented an e-book that can be read on your laptop or mobile device and can be viewed here.

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. 

Pedagogically Driven..#2

I presented the model shown in the slideshow above to a group of teachers representing most of the secondary schools in Christchurch yesterday. The event was held by the GCSN, focusing on our strategic planning for the year as we look at the possibilities of working together in a fibre-enabled network, with video conferencing facilities now available in each of their schools. 

The concept of how we make pedagogically driven decisions about technology investment is a question I encounter regularly in the work I do – and I shared this framework in a blog post last year after it had been developed in conjunction with schools I've worked with. That post provides an explanation of the framework which I won't repeat here. 

The slides towards the end of the show above have lines connecting the various parts of the diagram, which, working from the top, reflect how you can use the framework to represent, in a simple way, how you can arrive at a technology investment decision based on a pedagogical need. 

For example, the need to enable students to access information as a part of an inquiry programme when and where they need to links LEARN with UBIQUITY, which in turn links to MOBILE DEVICES as distinct from desktops as this allows access to the information at their desks or wherever the inquiry is being carried out – which in turn requires WIRELESS connectivity to ensure these devices can connect to the WWW without requiring wires etc. 

And so similar 'stories' can be mapped onto the framework – it's value is in providing a map for articulating such stories in order to clarify and justify technology investment decisions.