Up close and personal with your learning network

Back and forth inspiration

“We take ideas from other people, from people we’ve learned from, from people we run into in the coffee shop,and we stitch them together into new forms and we create something new. That’s really where innovation happens.” Steven Johnson on TED

Twitter search tells me I’ve tweeted 42 times about coetail (with 49 likes). Some of the pebbles I cast into the vast Ocean of Microblog caused ripples, while others sent not a single wave across the surface. A couple of my interactions during CoETaIL, however, have given me some satisfying back and forth.

During the first course, my former colleague, Matt, tweeted at me from the Learning2 workshop in Vietnam. He had heard about a model for learning with technology which he thought I might like (he knows I’m suspicious of most models). I incorporated the concept, PATER, into a blog post (Way of the SAMR eye) and tweeted it out mentioning its author who read my post and commented on the blog.


Acknowledging ideas

I had a similar experience with a later blog post which I published as a video (VLOG!). The post was inspired by the works of Emily Bailin and Will Richardson. They both read my post, retweeted it and replied.

Since I started using Twitter more than eight years ago, I have tried to make it work for me. It is where I discovered the screenshot app Jing (thank you @stephenfry!); I have encountered some very inspiring thinkers who flourish in the medium (such as @brian_bilston); and I have kept up with the life events of some of my friends. During CoETaIL, I have shared my blogposts; sought inspiration for my project; supported and replied to the posts of others in the cohort. But in truth, it’s been a bit of a chore. I did not make waves. I know people who share a lot and learn a lot on Twitter, but it is only a fairly small feature in my own tech seascape. Similarly, Facebook and Google+ are not places where I have successfully amplified my professional voice.

This is not to say that I am self-sufficient in my work, nor in CoETaIL. Without the ideas and support of other people, I would not have been inspired to create my own artifacts, whether blogging, making movies and music or taking photos. One of the pleasures of CoETaIL has been the back and forth below our posts. I have kept track in this 14-page document of my comments.

I like my learning network to be within arm’s reach and I celebrate the way in which schools are microcosms of societal expertise. You want to know how to work with iMovie? Understand bitcoin? Organise a committee? There’s someone who can help you. Work with eight year olds? Exercise efficiently? Play music? They will explain it and they may even have the kit for you to borrow. Ideas for a blog? Advice on a first draft? Comments on the published version. People are there for you. But you do have to ask. And asking for help can mean making oneself vulnerable because it can seem to imply ignorance. I have seen, in my role as a technology facilitator, that a large section of my colleagues never reaches out  for support (would you be surprised to know that this is more true of men than women?). I wonder if some people are less reticent to seek help online from strangers.

We should not ask: Where can I go for inspiration? but rather: Is there any place where you cannot find food for thought? Most people welcome the chance to be asked to think along.

So in my CoETaIL journey, the back-and-forth of ideas came from many places:

  • CoETaIL Online7 cohort, in our blogposts and comments, and in the very fruitful skype conversations during Course 2;
  • Face to face at conferences, with international educators including CoETaIL graduates;
  • PD visitors to the school such as Ron Richhart who helped me develop some new teaching tools;
  • My teaching and admin colleagues who represent a wide spectrum of attitudes and experiences in education;
  • Students who are at least as thoughtful and expert as adults when it comes to technology in their everyday lives;
  • Reading in all its many forms and exploring with other readers our differing interpretations;
  • Happenstance, chance remarks, connections, anything really, which lights a spark;
  • And, yes, online networks too, where friends and strangers wrestle with the same questions CoETaIL has made me ask.

We all have our own PLN, and if we neglect to include an online element, then it will be weaker, but it is just as important to honour the knowledge in our own immediate vicinity.

Crossing the finishing line

Too good to be true?

“Guys! You’re the BEST band I’ve discovered this year!”

Last week, I received this email which momentarily got my heart beating faster. You see, when I lived in Zambia, some friends and I played music together. We recorded a performance at someone’s party and, in the spirit of the times, I put one of the songs (See the world as the camels do) up on social media. On myspace. Well, it was 2004; there was no Twitter and Facebook was still confined to Harvard.

‘Stardom beckons!’, I inform our drummer, Antos. But of course, fame and fortune is not the end of this story. I wasn’t taken in; I’m pretty sure if you did grab the bait, you’d soon get to pay Caroline some money to be promoted on her website. If Caroline even exists.

Between CoETaIL and my involvement in our school’s committee, I’ve spent a lot of time recently thinking about social media. How, once you post something, it sticks around and could come back to haunt you. How there are people out there who will prey on your unsuspecting nature. How it can add spice to life.

In other words, to get the most out of social media, you need to be smart about it. Our school has kept it mostly at arm’s length, but we are aware that we must take more seriously our role of educating all of the community about its relationship with social media.

So, when I was invited to join, I asked if I might use the social media committee’s journey as my final CoETaIL project. The learners would be the members of the committee (teachers, students and school leaders).

The project appealed to me because the learning goal is authentic: we actually do need the policy. Our success would be a real-world achievement. SPOILER ALERT: we haven’t got there yet.

One of the features of a goal which is not pre-determined is that you don’t know exactly what it will take to achieve it. Our six week project was not sufficient to ‘achieve a school-wide social media policy’, nor ‘a review process for the guidelines’. So we missed goals #1 and #4, but I believe that we are doing quite well on the other two goals.

But don’t just take my word for it. As you will see in the video, several members of our thoughtful and diligent committee communicated their thoughts. That has allowed me to look at what they may have learned.

On the principle of ‘show don’t tell’ I decided my story could be related without a voiceover. This seems to be in line with the idea of simplicity encapsulated in Presentation Zen. Moreover, as the media are all my own, I haven’t availed myself of Creative Commons. Belatedly, I have made a CC licence for the music:

Attention Deficit by DJ Gearbox is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International LicenseBased on a work at https://soundcloud.com/dj-gearb/sets/attention-deficit.

YouTube Preview Image

If you can’t see the video, you may have to click in the address bar.


“… a foundational understanding of what [the school] could do … a wide range of people involved… including students, which is fantastic. We brainstormed in a variety of ways to eventually come up with our unique model for social media guidelines” David


“A document we can work with as a school community … find a way, once we have the document, to promote it, educate…” Katy

“If it’s not shared by the community, then what is it worth?” Lauren

“… you want a policy that allows you to continue to use social media and doesn’t scare people away from using it.” Gemma

There was no pre-testing of understanding, only afterwards, so I can’t know that their insights resulted from the activities we did. But I do have access to other evidence of learning: my own. I have been, in fact, an action-researcher, both participating and reporting.

It has been a very interesting experience, most notably because the course that we have steered has been determined, meeting by meeting, by the outcome of the previous one. We came up with some excellent ideas, such as relating social media guidelines to the DQ digital intelligences model. Most recently, however, with our eye on the available time, we have resolved to break down our goals into more manageable pieces. Thus, we are now responding to the most pressing need for, as one teacher plaintively informed a committee member,

“a piece of paper in my classroom that just tells me what to do”

In our discussions, we have cast our net much wider, which has provided many interesting ideas, but now we know what we must do in the short term. At our next meeting, which will be the final one of this round, we will consolidate the ideas and form of the requested practical ‘piece of paper’ and the process to implement it.

I have learned that I should have given the committee a clearer remit from the start, but I did not appreciate early on that we would have to limit our scope to produce promptly something tangible. I have also learned that our intensive 30 minute meetings, based around Thinking Routines, are an effective way to make progress, but I know that any repeated format suffers eventually from diminishing returns, so I think we should soon pause and consider a variety of ways we could go about our work.

I hope people who want to know what we did will watch the film and leave a comment.

So, of course, I am not going to get famous. But far from being dismayed by someone using my many-years-old relics on MySpace in a blatant attempt to exploit my ambition, I celebrate how social media allow us to preserve and propagate our creations. I believe, with common sense and education, we can learn to use them to our great benefit.

Dear committee…

“Thank you very much for your continuing support of the Social Media Committee. We have now had 2 meetings which were very productive, I feel. At the recent meeting on Friday 27 October, we generated, sorted, connected and elaborated our conclusions from the first meeting, and as a result, we have an idea-web with which to move forward. Our ideas came from other schools’ policy exemplars; our existing digital citizenship agreement (DCA); and our own reflections and research. These were sorted and connected into themes.”

in search of a good thinking routine

 The weekend before our second meeting, as luck would have it, I attended a seminar given at our school by Ron Ritchhart and learned a new Thinking Routine which matched closely the goals our committee had for expressing our thoughts: Generate, Sort, Connect, Elaborate.

Our new Director of Educational Technology, John Mikton, who is responsible for the social media committee, has given me some freedom to organise the activities with him. As the pictures show, we have so far held two meetings in which students, teachers and administrators explored other school’s ideas and our own unique situation. By the end of the process, we shall have met six times. The UbD planner with goals and evidence are here.

And here is a summary of the activities:

“In preparation for the third meeting, we all will reflect and research the different types of phrasing in the Policy exemplars from other schools in this folder or in any other examples we find. This will help us to establish the tone and style of the policy we will develop.”

We are building up a collection of policies from a variety of schools and other institutions here at Diigo.

Also, in preparation for the third meeting, a Draft Team sub-committee will meet to review the themes emerging from the idea-web. This team will propose to the full committee a framework for the draft policy which we will discuss on 14 November.”

In the UbD template, I have summarised what I would like the participants to have learned by the end of the process.


the important features of a social media policy


everyday behaviours with social media in terms of benefits or concerns


experiences of personal social media use to recommendations for the community


of which behaviours with social media are positive for the school community and which are not


with those who struggle with social media (through ignorance, misuse, overuse etc)


of personal strategies which emphasise the benefits and minimise the harmful effects of social media use

“As I said in the meeting, I would be interested to meet each committee member to record a short audio or video interview about your learning experience in the committee. I’d like to meet you in your place of work if possible. Please let me know if you have an appropriate moment for this discussion (10 minutes).”

Here are the questions I shall use to establish how the members of the committee have come to understand the process of implementing a social media roadmap.

“Thank you for your support. We have made a lot of progress and benefited very much so far from your variety of knowledge and perspectives. I’m looking forward to achieving our goal together in the coming meetings.”

The roadmap is not the road

Further on up the road

“At the end of nine or ten nights he realized, with a certain bitterness, that he could expect nothing from those students who accepted his teaching passively, but he could of those who sometimes risked a reasonable contradiction.” (JL Borges in Labyrinths)

My students are working on their most important project in the IB Theory of Knowledge course – the final externally assessed essay. They must choose one title from six, such as #6 below.

The titles beg some questions (what could ‘robust’ mean in this context?). I tell them to try to explain their ideas to friends or family and if they can’t make themselves clear, it’s probably because they haven’t properly got their head around it yet.

I had the same experience, of failing to communicate my ideas, when telling my colleagues what I was going to do for my Course 5 project for CoETaIL.

It took a little while for me to realise it, but their incomprehension is explained by the fact that I had not myself figured it out properly. As this post sets out, I was hoping to use our school’s pilot project for the new LMS as a medium to apply my CoETaIL learnings. In practice though, as we implement the program, there are too many unknowns in the early stages. Initially, the teachers will be dealing with practical considerations and these don’t lend themselves to my plan to apply, before Christmas, George Couros’ ideas for Today’s Classroom. Thankfully, another idea was waiting in the wings.


Imagine, aged 17, having to answer this question in 1500 words!


During Course 2, my collaborative project with Stephen in Milan and Valerie in Zurich was to plan a roadmap towards implementing social media guidelines in our respective schools. At the time, the eventual implementation was hypothetical, but the school where I work is now feeling a pressing need for guidelines for using social media. A committee has been formed and I have some freedom to influence how it goes about its work. This is not an orthodox teaching project, but I have found that I can fit it easily into the UbD template if I assume that the travellers along the road are on a learning journey. Instead of lessons, we shall have meetings; we will demonstrate that we have learned about social media within our community by proposing guidelines and inviting feedback; ultimately, our achievement will be assessed by its acceptance (or otherwise) by the school management.

This brings me back to “robust knowledge”. In the context of the quotation, I think it is knowledge which is not easily gainsaid. The title is suggesting that in order for a community to know something, the knowledge must be tested to ensure it is robust. There will be areas on which the group has consensus and these can form a basis; but without the challenge of a disagreement, the knowledge will not be required to defend itself against criticism. I’m sorry, that’s the convoluted way we are expected to talk in ToK, as if knowledge were a commodity and we agree what it is.

The challenge for the committee, therefore, is to make sure that it tests its proposals for using social media at school. There is a strong human tendency to seek consensus and to avoid disagreement because it feels like conflict. We must make sure that we do not fall into that pothole. The approach we have planned for the first committee meeting next Tuesday is to ask participants (who are students, teachers and managers) to use techniques which generate a multiplicity of ideas (more than we need) so that to formulate the guidelines, we must decide which ideas are the best ones. Between the meetings, we shall continue to research, curate and debate.

The project rubric applied

We shall communicate our guidelines with Visual Literacy strategies appropriate to the different constituencies of our community. (My Course 3 post: A Great and Vibrant Language)

By gratefully acknowledging the sources of our inspiration (at least five will be considered in the first meeting), Copyright will be respected. (C2: I Finally Renounce my Life of Crime)

The project is fulfilling an Authentic need and its Assessment will be whether it is fit for its purpose.

I have long been inspired by the ISTE Technology Standards. In this case, the Citizen category for students and educators are particularly relevant (C1: Taxonomy Domine)

  • “Educators inspire students to positively contribute to and responsibly participate in the digital world.” (ISTE, 2017)

  • “Students recognize the rights, responsibilities and opportunities of living, learning and working in an interconnected digital world, and they act and model in ways that are safe, legal and ethical.” (ISTE, 2016)

Although this will be a committee meeting, we shall need skills of Classroom Management.

The committee will be put in Active Learning situations in which members generate their own ideas and reflect on their experiences of social media.

It is important that the Use of Technology is not gratuitous. Most of the activities in our committee will encourage face-to-face communication; the dialogue and curation, which will continue between meetings, will be facilitated by technology. (C4: What the 1 to 1 classroom has taught me)

We shall be successful if robust guidelines emerge from our consensus and our disagreements.

Will you take the #CoETaIL challenge?


gratifyingly un-sexist nuclear families

One of my most inventive colleagues teaches French by placing his students, whenever possible, in authentic language situations. When they need to learn employment vocabulary, the students each film an interview with an adult about their work and then subtitle it. I help in class with the captioning process. Last year, I enjoyed learning about the spirits distiller Madame Wagner; Herr Klensch the personal trainer and Monsieur Bettel. He’s the Prime Minister of Luxembourg. Two enterprising students had secured an exclusive with our nation’s CEO. I love working in small countries!

“(Technology) tools can provide students and teachers with learning that is relevant and assessment that is authentic” What is successful technology integration? on Edutopia

One great reason to accept the CoETaIL Challenge is to learn about new ways for us and our students to learn.

It is very appealing to assess our students in authentic situations, but like so much that is desirable, easier said than done. If you’ve worked in this way, you’ll know that authentic assessment tasks are an inefficient way to achieve the traditionally narrow goals of teaching. The vocabulary of work could be imparted to these students using flash-cards and a written test. All done in 45 minutes and the syllabus bullet-point is checked off.

Instead, the task I am describing took several lessons, and homework, as well as the close attention in the classroom of my colleague, Guillaume, and me, as ed-tech coach. If you have done something similar with students, you will know, also, that movie formats, missing cables, bad sound, lost files and editing challenges are some of the obstacles on the road to success. So, though ‘authentic tasks’ sounds appealing, why are we taking the time and making all the extra effort, exactly? Is it worth it?

You need to decide for yourself.

Guillaume’s students learned the vocabulary by formulating questions, understanding the answers and transcribing the videos; they managed their time and resources in a complex project; they practised social skills with their partner and the interviewee; they used a range of technology creatively. They ran into problems; we fixed the problems; they worked hard. The lesson in which the class all watched each other’s videos was a celebration of their achievements of which the students were clearly proud. The teachers were satisfied too.

It is inescapable that the process of authentic assessment is demanding, messy and sometimes even discouraging, but there are rewards for those who stay the distance. Are you ready for the challenge?

Catalysts for understanding

If you watched the video, you now know that the Earth spins because it formed from rotating dust and nothing has stopped it so it just keeps on going. It’s got nothing to do with forces, centrifugal or otherwise, nor does gravity make the Earth spin. Many former students of Physics can spout Newton’s First Law of Motion, but Derek Muller’s videos go beyond mere repetition of knowledge and, by first focusing on misconceptions, achieve greater understanding.

“The idea of understanding is surely distinct from the idea of knowing something.” Wiggins and McTighe, Understanding by Design 2nd edition (p36)

More than just a manager

Amy Johnson pilotIn 2018, all of the teachers in our school will be using a new learning management system (LMS). My ed-tech coach colleague and I have a full year in which to help our Upper School faculty, alongside their existing workloads, to become comfortable with the system. As a first step, we have envisaged a pilot of volunteers which will begin in August 2017. My hope for this LMS, with its myriad capabilities, is that it will not simply manage the learning, but that it will be a catalyst for change. More than simply acquiring new routines, we will explore the potential of the LMS for improving our students’ learning.

We call it One to World

For nearly one year now, all of our students have brought a laptop to school every day. The learning curve has been steep, since most teachers and students had never worked in a 1 to 1 environment before. But the education has not changed very much, if at all. This is not to say that the computers are unused, rather that there isn’t a strong culture of innovation. Don’t get me wrong: no-one is suffering. As ever, Good Teachers + Good Students = Learning. Having gone down the road of computer-enabled learning, however, I think we should be better exploring technology’s possibilities.

What should our teachers be able to do?

“The challenge is to focus first on the desired learnings from which appropriate teaching will logically follow.” (p14)

The teachers will learn how to use the LMS and will know what the school wants them to do with it. Is that all? Surely there must also be understanding of how the system can support learning.

“To understand is to have done it in the right way, often reflected in being able to explain why a particular skill, approach, or body of knowledge is or is not appropriate in a particular situation” (p39).

Our teachers are not short on professional knowledge nor understanding; but many aren’t familiar enough with how educational technology could help their students learn better. Our goal will therefore be to relate the mechanical processes of the new LMS to powerful educational concepts; in particular, concepts which can be enhanced by computers in the classroom.

And what might these concepts be?

Image: Craig Badura
Image: Craig Badura

George Couros has provided an excellent schema for how today’s classroom could look. Crucially, although few of the ideas have a direct line to technology, they all can be enhanced by it.

When the Physics class used a wiki to comment constructively on each other’s Energy projects; when my IB ToK students could submit any ‘creative digital document’ to demonstrate their understanding of Cultures; when Grade 6 students could see their Online Habits survey responses accumulate in real-time; on all of these occasions, I revelled in examples of Couros’ ideas made concrete by technology.

A greater success, however, would be if they can use that knowledge gained in one situation and apply it to others.

“Understanding is about transfer… we can create new knowledge and arrive at further understandings if we have learned with understanding some key ideas and strategies” (p40)

How will we know what the teachers have learned?

What will be the evidence of learning? I’m not sure I know yet. The LMS has been purchased, but I haven’t got my hands dirty with it so far. This one has a great reputation in schools. I do know that I want to use Couros’ ‘Today’s Classroom‘ as part of the teachers’ learning experience. There will be evidence of their Voice as they Reflect on the outcomes of their Self Assessment. I hope there will be evidence they have Thought Critically about the Problems they might solve and evidence they Chose to Innovate and to Connect with other learners.

What will be their learning experiences?

In UBD, this is the third and final stage of deciding, and since my knowledge of the evidence is incomplete due to inexperience with this LMS, I shall be developing the activities, with my coach colleague, at the start of the next school year.

On my CoETaIL projects page, I have embedded the UBD template. Being live, it will reflect the project at whichever time you read it. As I write, only the Desired Results are known, including:

Understand how new ideas (eg Couros’ ‘today’s classroom’) can be supported by the new LMS

More than knowledge, understanding will be my main criterion of success. The teaching will aim at understanding and I shall seek ways to gather evidence of:

“conceptions: that is, meanings that are general … Without this conceptualizing, nothing is gained that can be carried over to the better understanding of new experiences” John Dewey, How we Think, 1933, p153

Paradigm Shift by the Dashboard Light (CoETaIL blog tour)

“We’ve got this new concept, the idea of cloud storage… it’s become much more of an unremarkable thing nowadays for musicians to collaborate and be able to share their entire projects with each other across the globe.” Todd Rundgren on All Songs Considered podcast.

Rundgren, who produced Meatloaf’s Bat out of Hell album among many others, has been at the forefront of music technology for 50 years. From his studio in Hawaii, he uses Dropbox to work with artists anywhere in the world.

It’s good to be reminded how far we have come.

earth-spinning-rotating-animation-25CoETaIL course 2 aims to give us “the experience of a globally collaborative project”. From Luxembourg, I linked up with two other colleagues working in Europe: Stephen in Milan and Valerie in Zurich. Every few days for two weeks, we met online and planned guidelines for using social media in international schools. The tools we worked with have become very familiar: Skype; Google Docs; email; phone, tablet and laptop. While sitting in our own homes, amongst our families, we worked face-to face, simultaneously on the same documents; then we made agreements and commented asynchronously, at times which suited each of us, on the others’ plans. Social Media are Changing who we are is my blogpost about our project (and about my screen-free vacation that it inspired).

When, by chance, we all attended the same international conference last month, I felt I was greeting longtime friends.

It’s easy to overlook how incredible this project would have seemed to teachers a generation ago. Such a collaboration could have been achieved only with plane tickets; high phone bills; envelopes and stamps.

And now, these tools are in our hands; in our pockets; in our homes; 24/7, if we allow them. Our project “Guidelines for Using Social Media in Schools” addresses the concerns we all should have about ubiquitous digital tools. Equally, it employed those same tools to blend our own ideas and experiences with the opinions of experts. Driven by our participation in CoETaIL, we experienced, as educators, what we desire for our students: the modern miracle of global collaboration.

Social Learning – it’s what the Internet is for (CoETaIL blog tour)

“Is this the latest version of Windows movie maker?” Freddie asks me in class. “What is the population of Luxembourg?” Marie wants to know. TWIF I tell each of them. They know what I mean; they’ve heard it before.

just twif it
made on festisite.com

In answer to questions like these, others say sarcastically: “Just let me Google that for you“. The point is that the reliable and accurate answers to these questions are available to anyone in almost an instant. We no longer have to ask the teacher. TWIF stands for: That’s What the Internet is For. Just twif it, I tell the kids. And they get it.

New technology has changed our relationship with knowledge itself. Our students have access to every resource. No wonder some argue that teachers will become redundant. And yet…

…every school I have worked in looks quite like the one I went to during the industrial revolution (well, Leeds in the 1970s). Grades, tests, insular subjects, content-focused teachers. Of course, there are pockets of creativity, but they don’t add up to a bag of innovation. It’s really difficult to change things; even difficult to imagine what it would look like if they were changed on a grand scale.

There is always more than one way of looking at things.

You might sign up for CoETaIL because you’re interested in the challenges of education and change. From the start, you are immersed in many of the best ideas about teaching and learning. You join a community which is speaking the same language and asking similar questions. But you will not come away with simple answers.

morpheus-samr-memeIn course 1, we jump right in and investigate models of educational technology. Personally, I believe that SAMR is a useful model, but it is frequently misappropriated. My PLN suggested one I prefer which I wrote about on my CoETaIL blog (Way of the SAMR eye). Making a case is an excellent way to rehearse your understanding. And the comments from the colleagues you are learning with will make you think again: they don’t necessarily agree with you.

If the education we want for our children is critical, creative and collaborative, then our learning must be like that too. Most questions aren’t googleable; instead, they lead to deeper thought and open up possibilities rather than closing them down. Most solutions are improved by the clash and compromise of difficult conversations.

CoETaIL walks this talk. You can question assumptions, express doubts, try out some new ideas, not alone but with fellow learners. If we believe our students should learn socially, then we must too.

What the 1 to 1 classroom has taught me

“Despite their growing popularity, laptops may be doing more harm in classrooms than good.” (Mueller and Oppenheimer, 2014)

multitask memeThis grandiose conclusion was drawn when the authors tested groups of students taking notes either on laptops or longhand. “Those who wrote out their notes by hand had a stronger conceptual understanding and were more successful in applying and integrating the material than those who took notes with their laptops.” (Professor Cindy May, Scientific American).

At least two important questions went unaddressed:

  1. Were the subjects in the experiment equally experienced in paper and electronic note-taking? If not, maybe you are actually measuring their aptitude with the medium.
  2. What do you mean by ‘classrooms’? In the experiments, only podium lecturing was tested (recorded TED talks and verbatim reading of scripts). That’s not what the classrooms look like in the schools I know.

What have I learned from 1-to-1?

In nearly all of the lessons I have taught since 2008, the students have used devices for nearly all of the time. Before then, not at all. I changed abruptly because my school did and I was interested to see how far I could take the new model.

You may be an interesting teacher, but you can’t compete with the Internet

interesting memeOne sees the truth of this even in staff meetings if teachers have their device lids up. They are not paying proper attention because your brain can’t process two information streams at once. In lessons, it’s the same. When I talk to my students, I insist they should not be looking at their screens. A strategy which works for me has been to organise my class as an ‘inverted horseshoe’ with desks around the edge of the room, laptops facing outwards. This means that when I talk to the group, I can ask the students to face me and turn their backs on their screens.

And then I shut up so that they can get on with it. Ergonomically it’s an advantage too. When the students are all working, I can stand in the middle of the room and get to anyone quickly. Not every colleague has been convinced, but it works for me.

You are already an expert

You are already an expert memeI had been teaching Physics for several years before I landed in a 1-to-1 classroom. The internet had become a cornucopia of excellent teaching materials. There were assessments, simulations and videos; there were resources produced by great teachers, inspired students and world-renowned physicists. I started a wiki and embedded, linked and organised all of the assets I had found, but after I had planned my courses there were many I hadn’t used even though I knew they would be great for the students. I took a step back from my role as gatekeeper. I flung back the gate. No! I took it off its hinges. In their own time, the students who wanted to know more browsed the wiki and found materials which suited their learning style and because it was online, the site also welcomed up to 5 000 visitors per day.

1-to-1 intimidates many teachers because they assume that students are more comfortable with devices than adults. This may be true, but it’s not important. A teacher is an expert explainer; he is knowledgeable about his subject; he knows good teaching ideas when he sees them. A good teacher who doesn’t use technology (yet) is still a good teacher. Technology is just another tool he should use to become the best teacher he can be.

Let go

trust your students memeSo technology enabled me to improve what I was giving to my students. It also freed me to interact with them in my version of the flipped classroom. Some of the instruction was flipped to the home, but more importantly, it was flipped to the virtual classroom I had made. As the students learned from my curated resources, I could spend time with those who needed support.

To do this, I had to trust in the students’ wish to learn. I wasn’t standing at the front commanding their constant attention. What they were doing instead is still called note-taking, but it only vaguely resembles the activity which Scientific American said laptops don’t do well. Alongside their text, students dragged in images and graphs straight from the wiki. They added photos of my sketches on the whiteboard; links to my curated videos; their own found resources (which we could then add to the wiki).

open up the kitchen and the larder, not just the dining room

The traditional classroom is like a restaurant. The visitors consume what the chef produces because she has the knowledge and expertise. But what if the clientele were allowed to choose ingredients from the shelves and then prepared their own meals under the tutelage of the chef? Of course it’s inconceivable; the result might be nourishing, but is unlikely to be sophisticated. This, however, is what we have done to the classroom when we gave the students access to the same resources the teachers have (but not the expertise). The metaphor sounds outrageous, which shows what a radical change education has seen.

Of course, if all we do is try to use devices to replicate the activities which were developed for paper, we will, like Professor May, be disappointed by them.

Never mind the bubbles – a future fable

Graduating Class of 2035! My name is Indira Xi. I was born, like most of you, in 2017.

This was around the time that many of our teachers themselves graduated from school. We have heard their stories of 1-to-1 classrooms; mobile devices; MOOCs and learning journeys. Looking back, it is obvious that our forebears came up with some great ideas for education, but they didn’t find a way to scale them up in practice (the average completion rate of MOOCs was 15%, and for the larger enrollments, it was typically much lower). Of course, we now know how to get it up to 100%!

FANGBack in 2017, the big technology companies (their vampiric acronym was FANG) were dabbling with algorithms, serving up content which matched the interests of their users, and they had begun to accumulate information covering many aspects of people’s lives (by studying location data, they knew who 90% of all adults were spending the night with). In those years, however, they didn’t yet realise what power they had!

soap-bubble-824576_640By 2022, five years later, everything was different! The FANG engineers had introduced recursively self-improving algorithms which very quickly sharpened the personalisation of everyone’s Internet experience (it took milliseconds). When the optimum content was not available, the programs set about manufacturing and distributing stories (so much more efficient than waiting for your friends to recommend the very best videos and articles). They made digitally-generated movies which varied the cast and storyline depending on the preferences of whoever was watching. The FANGS did not survive this revolution as separate entities; they united into one huge engine called Facebubble.

Then, as you know, self-improving algorithms were introduced into education and they immediately unified every MOOC into one enormous course representing the sum of all human knowledge (the type which can be taught online, at least). They used their knowledge of every past interaction to analyse each teaching moment and to perfect a learning path for anyone to learn anything and to enjoy it. They knew their students’ needs through a combination of metadata, Facebubble clicks and information from wearables (pupil dilation, skin conductivity and heartrates).

produced with festisite

Governments were delighted. They called the new program Epystematic: a system to organise all knowledge and to personalise for each citizen exactly what society needed them to learn. Then by tweaking people’s known motivations, they made the process maximally efficient. We didn’t even need public exams any more: the Epystematic already knew what we could do. Universities loved that! And once the machines started calling every election result perfectly, there was no point holding votes any more. So they didn’t.

Fellow students, this is the learning world we entered.

The classroom was so personalised that no two students were learning the same thing at the same time. We put on our VR goggles and Epystematic knew us better than our own parents, friends or teachers (whose role had been reduced to handing out the equipment). There was no social contact with other children in the class; why would we need anyone else when the output from our headsets was so finely tuned to our own brains? We made no choices. And the more we used Epystematic, the better it did its job. It was personalisation, but it was not personal.

This time was called, as you will remember, The Great Sedation.

So what changed?

Back in the day

After five years, in 2027, came the punk teachers and their Personal Unfiltered Network of Knowledge. There were some in every school; the punks took on the Epystematic dinosaur. Happily, they had some excellent weapons (which had been around since 2017) to help them in their battle.

Ad Nauseam, the application which simply and silently clicks on every single ad link to make the data they are gathering about us completely useless. The punks taught their students to obfuscate their digital contrail.

Solid, the decentralised web tools, built by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, which make sure that our personal information is kept in a vault so that web companies must request our permission for access when they need to consult it. The punks showed us how to take back ownership.

Wikitribune, a platform which unites journalists and volunteers to produce news stories which can be easily verified and improved.

A DIY sensibility: Inspired by the historic upheaval in music half a century earlier, the punks rejected the status quo.

The tide turned. The punks had no need of large institutions and began small independent schools which decided for themselves how they would organise their learners, like the one we are graduating from. We recognise learning as a social process; personalisation gives way to personal learning; we all have a role in deciding what and how we learn; we recognise that learning is sometimes a messy and difficult experience. And every day, our punk teachers help us negotiate that process.

produced using ransomizer.com

With their heads no longer in the bubble of an algorithmic feed, people started thinking for themselves again and democracy returned.

Fellow students, our journey has only just begun.

Yes, technology may be your friend, but it is only people who can teach and learn!