The knowledge is in the network

network of hands[Here's an article recently published and cross-posted here from the Education Review, Leadership & PD July 2013. This article has also appeared in the Education Gazette.]

Atarangi is a teacher working in a large secondary school in the North Island. She is passionate about ensuring her students engage with her English lessons in ways that are meaningful to them.

A few years ago, Atarangi’s professional learning didn’t extend much further than sessions in the staff room on Monday afternoons and the occasional whole day workshop. Sometimes she chose what was most useful to her; sometimes others chose for her. When a colleague with specialist literacy knowledge left the team, taking their expertise with them, it was challenging to find others who could offer the same support.

Fast forward to 2013. Atarangi is still working hard for her students, which means she is also working hard for herself to stay on top of current trends. When she reflects on her practice, she wants to make sure it’s from an informed position. So Atarangi has begun to change the way she uses her time. She harnesses the power of digital technologies and online networks, often through her smartphone, so that she can target specialty information and learn from colleagues in ways that are tailored to her needs, and the needs of her students. Her day isn’t any longer, nor does she have extra release time, but how she spends her time on professional learning is evolving.

What does this new professional learning look like?

Atarangi funnels education news and blogs to her tablet using an RSS feed reader, skimming for relevant articles over coffee. She belongs to a number of groups in the Ministry’s VLN Group’s social network ( as well as the English Online listserv. She has gathered a highly-informed group of educators around her across a range of online networks, and when she can, she joins webinars and live chats. She has inspired others in her schools to be more open about their practice, the resources they develop, and the inquiries they are pursuing. More staff in her school blog their work, integrating them into their appraisal process and extending face-to-face conversations with online notes and reflections.

Welcome to the world of the highly connected professional, powered by digital networks, driven by students’ strengths and needs.

The drivers

The drivers are partly technological, with particular focus on the use of mobile technologies and cloud computing. Currently, the global total of mobile-cellular subscriptions almost equals the world’s population, with mobile penetration reaching saturation in developed countries. Combine this with ubiquitous access through their home/school networks and the growth in online software that you can tailor to your needs and you have all the technical ingredients for a connected approach to learning.

A second key driver is the innate desire for us to set our own goals, drive our learning, and engage in professional conversations that have direct relevance to our work, strengths, and needs. The social advantage of working collaboratively and of constructing knowledge through shared endeavours is not new. The way we construct new learning together is a well-established pedagogical approach. But now, personal access to technologies allows us to engage in shared learning faster, more flexibly, and with a much wider circle of colleagues than might have been possible before.

There is a plethora of online networks and communities available for New Zealand educators, both local and global. Examples include Twitter conversations tagged to #edchatnz and #edchat, community groups in the VLN Groups on everything from e-learning to science, conferences that offer backchannels using social media, and content on various topics curated by keen specialists.

Networked PD

Being able to engage in professional learning in this networked way offers educators, schools, and regional clusters a number of advantages.

Firstly, the ease with which we can access information across a network offers efficiencies in terms of resource exchange. Access to some of the best minds in education is often only a few clicks away. Toby, a deputy principal in a recent study exploring the impact of social networking on professional learning, described this way of working as offering “total control over the content that you are looking at. You are much more able to pick the stuff that challenges you or refines what you think with more detail … There are a whole lot of people out there with really well thought out perspectives on things, really informed, a lot more informed than me in many situations, and that’s really helpful because I am able to build my own understanding …”

This also highlights the way that user-generated networks offer the keen educator a mechanism to drive their own learning, set their own goals, and tailor their inquiry to their students’ needs. It can support a strength-based approach to learning, balancing whole school goals with inclusive pathways for staff. Technology can enable agentic approaches to professional learning that simply weren’t possible a few years ago.

Secondly, working with other colleagues who share common interests makes a lot of sense, especially if you are the sole specialist in your school or geographically isolated. The range and variety of educational content and services available to us is instantly broadened once you belong to an active educational network or choose to attend webinars or enrol in MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). Increasing numbers of shared voices can help surface examples of effective practice, common ponderings, and problems of practice that begin to create a shared story of the educational profession in action. Increasingly, for example, schools are seeing advantages in shared access to e-portfolios and integrating evidence-based inquiry with practice in ways that open up the doors on practice in each other’s classrooms. Ask a question in the enabling e-Learning groups in the VLN Groups and it will be answered within hours, often by a number of educators.

Most importantly, a third advantage of this connected approach is that it can help sustain and support schools during times of change and uncertainty. Future proofing may not be possible, but collaboration amongst clusters and networks can complement schools’ strengths and fill gaps in expertise that might be hard to fill.

Julie, a facilitator, reflecting on the growth of the VLN Groups, commented that “there is a recognition that one teacher can’t be everything to all those children in that one class, that one school cannot have that wide range of experiences that they may need to address the emerging trends, that it means that having a broader wider network can help people have those conversations and come to common understandings together”.

Integrating connectivity

The challenge for teachers and school leaders now is to consider the extent to which such connectivity and networking can be integrated into professional learning design in ways that offer staff the same inclusive, flexible learning pathways that we want for our students. Research in the field of online and blended professional learning recognises the potential for digital technologies to enable a flexible, personalised approach to learning for educators. It is crucial, however, to bear in mind that collaboration, connection, and rapid conversation do not make for effective professional learning on their own. It is vital that frameworks, such as the teaching as inquiry model, provide an approach to ground the use of such networks.

Michael Fullan, in his book Leading Professional Learning, warns that, “we have many examples of superficial professional learning communities – educators simply calling what they are doing professional learning … without going very deep into learning”.

To maximise the opportunities of online learning in schools, schools and educators might ask themselves the following questions:

  • What kinds of professional learning models do we currently use?
  • How far do you current models allow us to set their own goals and inquiries?
  • How can we integrate online networks to extend and enhance our face-to-face learning?

The next steps

Practical first steps might include exploring New Zealand educator groups on Twitter, while joining the 10,000 New Zealand educators on the VLN Groups might be a useful way to dip your toes into local networking waters, without the risk of sharks.

We are 55,000 educators spread across two large islands, and sometimes it can be hard to stay connected even to other schools in our own area. With ultra-fast broadband an increasing reality for

New Zealand schools, combined with a growing appreciation for educator-driven inquiry, social networks offer us the easiest way yet to find our own doorway into relevant professional conversations and help us sustain our learning. Even if it is one tweet at a time.

[Image credit: CC Michael.Heiss]

On the horizon for K-12 | 2013

This year’s Horizon Report K-12 is out now…Check out the introductory video below:

It’s always useful to look up beyond the parapet at international shifts and trends and consider what the implications might be for educators and students. And then we ask ourselves,’ so what?’ What does this mean for me, my school, my students?

So, here’s my take on the ‘so what?’

No surprises

Cloud computing and mobile devices are one year or less away in terms of the 20% integration considered as the benchmark for adoption. Those of us in schools can see the trends toward BYOD, storage and use of cloud-based software and the proliferation of apps. Anyone with a smartphone will already recognise the opportunities to place user-experience in the driver’s seat for learning.

The questions for schools relate to how to best harness this type of technology in ways that put all learners’ strengths and needs first, rather than worry about the school down the road. A clear vision for the curriculum, for pedagogy and a PD plan for teachers, as well as giving consideration to digital citizenship should all be front and centre. Working hand-in-hand with the school community on this is vital.

Check out the BYOD in Schools group in the VLN Groups network to talk about this with colleagues across NZ and beyond.

Points to ponder

The prediction that big data related to learning analytics and open content are only a couple of years out from penetration are of interest.

The ability to analyse data gathered in student management systems and LMSs presents the opportunity to tailor the learning experiences of young people more precisely and responsively. How schools ensure they gather the information that is of most use in this kind of decision making will be a key question for schools. The open source movement offers exciting possibilities for the sharing of resources, of practice, of knowledge development as well as access to international information and data sets that can inform learning and inquiry.

On the far horizon sit the maker culture, with 3D printers and virtual laboratories that offer opportunities to prototype, test, trial and develop scientific thinking in ways that would have been beyond the cost of schools a few years ago. The large of number of 3D printers at this year’s Makerspace in Wellington (check out the Makertorium) was a reflection of what might be possible in schools  in terms of creation, design and construction.

 Social trends

Driving these trends are 6 movements which, in some ways, are of more interest than the technologies themselves:

  1. “Education paradigms are shifting to include online learning, hybrid learning, and  collaborative models.

  2. Social media is changing the way people interact, present ideas and information, and  communicate.

  3. Openness — concepts like open content, open  data, and open resources, along with notions  of transparency and easy access to data and  information — is becoming a value.

  4. As the cost of technology drops and school  districts revise and open up their access policies,  it is becoming more common for students to bring their own mobile devices

  5. The abundance of resources and relationships  made easily accessible via the Internet  is challenging us to revisit our roles as  educators. “

How can we turn the challenges into opportunities?

How might we…

  • redesign professional learning so it is sustainable and a valued part of the school’s culture?
  • look at the new pathways that are opening up for schools, and see past the more traditional modes that may not always have the individual learner at the heart?
  • integrate blended practices into learning, particularly assessment practices?
  • harness technologies so students are working from positions of strength?

Managing BYOD at Albany Senior High | Notes from PoriruaNet

[This is cross-posted to/from the Enabling e-Learning: Leadership group]

A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to the PoriruaNet Cluster conference, to facilitate a couple of workshops on Enabling e-Learning and blended professional learning for schools.

It was great to see four schools coming together to explore the way they were using technology for learning – and the day was kicked off by Mark Osborne (Albany Senior High School – see picture) who explored several aspects of how his school has integrated technology into their curriculum and learning philosophy.

Managing the challenge of inequity in BYOD

At Albany, for students who have any device, they can bring it in and the school will make sure the network is available. But their vision for students means that they should be able to learn in the way they wish – which may not involve technology. We should remind ourselves that learning is a social activity, so screen time needs balancing with peer work, and their suggested optimum ratio is 1:3 around a single device.

All information in the cloud

The goal at Albany is for any browser to be able to access the web, using any device, anytime, anywhere. This requires huge commitment to the network and infrastructure. 400-500 devices are on the network during the day.

Open source – Open access

For every personal device that comes in, a school computer is freed up for a student who needs it. Software access can also result in inequity, so they chose to use open, free, powerful software that anyone could access. E.g GIMPinstead of PhotoshopOpen Office, instead of Microsoft Office. To download new apps, the library offers QR code-tagged apps to take students to relevant download pages.  In terms of storage and security, the school provides personal lock-ups, with power points, managed by the students.


Recording and reflecting on their own ‘Impact’ projects (e.g. Students monitoring waterways, starting bands, designing rockets, creating art) can be challenging for teachers who also have to support rigorous assessment. How to assess fluid, self-chosen learning? e-Portfolios allow for flexible conversations around learning, amongst students, parent and teachers.

Wikieducator, Google docs, and social networks

Collaborative, peer-tutoring can occur in the cloud. Mark described the power of Google docs, citing an example of over 40 teachers using them at the ULearn11 conference to collate notes during a keynote. These tools allows for differentiated approaches, peer review, structured and scaffolded approaches, and tracking for individual involvement. Many classes use Facebook pages, often administered by both teacher and students, focused around different topics and questions


Mark quoted Bishop, and the importance of tuakana-teina. All good teachers keep learning. He advocated for active reciprocal learning (touching on the Learning Pyramid).

At the start, Mark reminded us of Papert’s quote – “Of course technology doesn’t work. Technology doesn’t do anything; people do.” – and asked us to consider the challenges in our classroom that we are hoping to solve. It was a good reminder to set aside the shiny tools and focus on a clear vision and learning goals for our students.

The keynote was a really useful set of touchpoints for BYOD, that put the learning and the curriculum in the foreground and spoke strongly to the importance of clear vision and strategy.

Enabling e-Learning: Leadership logo

The e-Learning Planning Framework: Leadership dimension might be a good starting point for other schools looking to review the way they interate technology with their curriculum.

Thanks to Mark for sharing Albany Senior High’s experiences, and to PoriruaNet for hosting us:-)

Online professional learning: Punch above your weight

Butterfly flying free from cupped handsHere’s a story:

Sally is a primary teacher, who has had some exciting shifts in the way two of her students are learning to read. She rushes down the corridor to tell a colleague in the staffroom. Her colleague listens, is pleased for Sally, and spends a few minutes reflecting with her on both of their classrooms and how they teach literacy. Occasionally they return to the conversation over the following weeks. The end.

I use this as the start of an activity in the sessions I am running throughout this year on how blended/online approaches to professional learning can change the ending of this story. Sally’s story is the ‘BC’ version (before connectivity), although I know that it is still the norm in many schools.

I have been exploring why and how the social web, when it’s used strategically by educators, can make Sally’s story go further so, as a group, we can:

  • build a shared articulation of practice
  • make visible for others our reflective inquiries around ‘what works’
  • create spaces for a collaborative approach to inquiry
  • offer opportunities for professionals to make connections with each other, using visible online networks
  • curate learning to build a lifelong digital portfolio, against which to reflect and discuss
  • create expression of our practice to enable comparisons with others, to clarify what the key stories of effectiveness look like.

I am facilitating these sessions as part of the CORE Education breakfast series throughout 2012, and also at the ULearn12 conference in October.

Meanwhile, here’s me giving an overview of this trend, created for the 10 trends series:

[Image source:  Beverly & Pack]

Social media: Digital dialogue with DK

Yes, he’s a mate and a colleague….and so, having declared my interest, I’ll say, without feeling at all ‘promotional’ that the CORE breakfast session this Friday morning with DK on social media was spot on. Here’s why:

  • Social media was foregrounded in the bigger picture, the context of the development of the web, all the way from the O’Reilly’s brain through the ‘happy ugly’ of MySpace (great video from Ze Frank) to the exciting possibilities of today’s social web for both learners and teachers.
  • Great images: always more powerful to use a visual metaphor than a bunch of bullets.
  • Big, fat philosophy. Open, sharing, enthusiastic advocacy for the power of the collective. Social media as digital dialogue that can be efficiently managed so we can choose to hear our favourite signals amidst the noise.
  • Humour. Laughs. Wry self-deprecation.
  • Great collection of tweets all the way through…
More, please.

I Facebook, therefore I…

Apparently, I am more likely to be female, over 35, trusting, politically active, to have close relationships, and more social support. Is it because I am friendly, sociable and gullible? ;-)

Or it is because I am on Facebook?

These are the assertions of a recent Pew Report – Social networking and our lives (Hampton, Goulet, Rainie & Purcell, 2011), which surveyed 2,255 adults to explore “how people’s trust, personal relationships, and civic and political involvement are connected to their use of social networking sites and other technologies”.

The paper seems to fly in the face of the usual media suspects who often claim that social networking leads to narrow, superficial, stunted relationships, lacking in diversity. On the contrary, the survey seems to suggest that regular involvement in social media sites is reflective of the opposite – civically engaged, connected, social beings. There is even an interesting discussion about MySpace and ‘perspective taking’, which might suggest that such spaces are not the closed echo chambers that we might assume.

And apparently it doesn’t make us dumb, either. When exploring how strong  the relationship is between internet use and the diversity of people’s overall social networks, they concluded that:
Education is the best predictor of a diverse social network. Each year of education is associated with 1.5 additional points on the diversity scale. From this perspective, internet users have a boost in network diversity that is equivalent to about two years of formal education, bloggers have a boost of about four years.”

So all that blogging does pay off.

But I am still left wondering: is it the technology at play here – or are those people who are active in these networks those early-adopter, more socially-brave types that would have wide, active networks anyway?

Can you ‘do’ social media if you’re not very social?

[Image source:]

Make social media WORK for you

8.30am, and according to the research, the 300+ audience of students should still have been asleep in bed. However, the 2011 Tech Hui saw hundreds of bright-eyed, keen folk turn up to Te Papa to hear a few of us, mostly old(er), folk share our thinking about all things technology.

The annual Wellington event is student-run, a huge achievement in itself. I was invited to speak about the way students might extend their uses of social media beyond the ‘social’ to enhance the way they learn. It was a whistle-stop tour, but I managed a whole room, real-time Twitter example (without touching an equipment!), explored some examples of how they might explore their learning passions (Shakespeare on Facebook! Chat to Stephen Hawking on Twitter!), and emphasised the importance of cybersafety and of being a digital citizen with integrity.

It was a pleasure to be invited, and to watch such a slick operation get underway. Many thanks, and well done, to the TechHui team and to those in the audience.

[Image source:


The Christchurch earthquake – and the tragedy unfolding in its wake – has stunned us all. But, in between the stories of bravery, local heroism and national response, there have been occasional moments where something has caught my attention because it is odd or unusual.

For me, it was the moment in Parliament on Tuesday 22 February, when Bill English asked people to stay off the phone lines and use texting instead. And it was the moment when a bizarre email from a friend made me think something had happened – and Twitter was my first source for immediate news. Both were, even at the time, in the midst of the devastating news, an odd reminder of the way technology is part of how we communicate.

This infographic from Mashable highlights the way online networks are now firmly centre stage during times when news is breaking; when the person in the street is at the heart of the story; when good, and bad, news travels faster than ever before.

If anyone still doubts the power of an online community, a social network or 140 character messages to have real impact on people’s lives, they have only to look at the messages coming through on the day of the earthquake, and still streaming through in the days afterwards, to be persuaded otherwise.


When your 13-year-old joins Facebook


I have found a great post that articulates really sensibly the role that a parent could – should? – take to support their child’s developing understanding and awareness of digital citizenship.

I was struck by the way the author, Molly Baker, embraces the benefits, and takes a pragmatic approach to the potential challenges. She acknowledges the bigger picture, the world of technology in which our children are growing up and the way. Her analogy of teaching children to ride a bike, that we need to give them ‘training wheels’, is spot on. Sensible woman.

On the other hand, the comments underneath that post reveal a whole other side to her argument, one that often sees technology as a harbinger of danger, predation and a dumbed-down view of life.

Here is the original post:   Why I finally gave in and let my 13-year-old join Facebook

(Thanks for the tip, via the blog Might be of interest; image via

My Principal tweets: A report on leaders and social networks

We know that when leaders get involved in professional learning – when they walk the talk – their staff and community are much more likely to follow and be inspired to join in.

The report  – School Principals and Social Networking in Education: Practices, Policies, and Realities in 2010 – highlights the importance of school principals getting hands-on experience with social media tools, like Facebook and Twitter, in order to understand how it might support collaborative and networked learning.

The key findings of the report include:

  • Principals who have active and personal experience of social media are far more likely to be strong advocates for its educational potential, and for e-learning in general.
  • Many principals believe that there are possibilities within social media – but their schools do not have a strategy for its use.

The report recommends three key actions:

  1. Greater active involvement in social networking is required for school leaders – and sites like EdWeb, ASCD Community and Google for Educators can provide a context that offers obvious benefits quite quickly if Facebook and Twitter don’t strike immediate chords.
  2. Models of good practice are needed to show the potential of social networking in education
  3. School policies need to be more effective and based on real-world contexts. They should extend beyond whether sites should be blocked to incorporate students and community in authentic digital citizenship conversations.

Schools look to their leaders for guidance and inspiration. What are they seeing at the moment?

Original link for report: