Death of Education, Dawn of Learning

The K12 Online Conference has begun with a pre-conference presentation by Stephen Heppell. This intimate presentation is summed up with the idea that we are seeing the “death of education and the dawn of learning”. A thoughful beginning to this year’s conference.

My take away thoughts are that we must continue to be as optimistic as Stephen Heppell and believe that these are indeed exciting days to be involved in public education.  The opportunities for education as community, as mutuality, as democracy are here – it is up to “us” to embrace the tools, we cannot wait for “them” to find us.

While the K12 Online Conference is mainly aimed at educators, parents might be interested in taking in Lorna Costantini and Matt Montagne’s presentation, scheduled for October 31. There are 40 presentations to access over the next 2 weeks – there is sure to be something for everyone.

Assignment: Reflections on CCK08

Sometime during the lazy days of summer I decided it was a good idea to enrol in an online course titled “Connectivism and Connective Knowledge” that was being discussed in the edtech community.  I knew when I signed up that the course would go far beyond my current intellectual curiosity, but as it was billed as something you could do as much or as little of as you wanted, and it would be a way to increase my use of some online tools, I decided to jump in anyway.

One of the first tasks was to introduce ourselves in the moodle forum. I wrote the following about my goals for the course:

I will consider myself successful if I gain the knowledge and confidence to express to those I have the ability to influence why technology is important to all of us involved in education – students, teachers, parents and administrators. I will consider this course successful if it empowers the participants through our connections, collaboration and creativity. 

Post to moodle – easy. Contribute to the google map of participants – also easy (although someone moved my pin from Hanwell to Minto…?…hmmm).  I read most of the pre-course material and felt prepared going into week 1. And then – Monday morning – OMG.  Rather than get right into the readings I decided to read some of the participant bios and discussions to try to find some people like me to connect with (a major component of a course on Connectivism is making some connections).

Two hours later (the time I had allotted to work on CCK08), and I was lost in debates about epistemology, scepticism, technorealism, communism, constructivism,…I read a lot, but I learned little. But I didn’t give up – having learned my lesson I began the next day with readings. I’m glad I did because of passages like these:

Connectivism finds its roots in the climate of abundance, rapid change, diverse information sources and perspectives, and the critical need to find a way to filter and make sense of the chaos (George Siemens, link)

Previous conceptions of learning rested heavily on information and knowledge acquisition. The fundamental need of learning in our society has changed. Due to rapid growth of knowledge, the act of learning has shifted from acquisition to assimilation, from understanding of individual elements to comprehending an entire space and, thereby, understanding how elements connect. (George Siemens, link)

 This I understand, and more importantly I believe. So on I go.


The current issue of Educational Leadership has an article that I felt had the right ring to it for the beginning of a new school year – it is titled “Joy in School” (Stephen Wolk) (click here for a TinyURL link). The article has little reference to technology or web tools, but it goes straight to the heart of what learning should be – JOYFUL.

Wolk remarks:

“If the experience of “doing school” destroys children’s spirit to learn, their sense of wonder, their curiosity about the world, and their willingness to care for the human condition, have we succeeded as educators, no matter how well our students do on standardized tests?”

He goes on to explore 11 ways that educators can integrate JOY into the classroom, including: Give Students Choice, Take Time to Tinker, Get Outside, and Show Off Student Work, and he make an important distrinction between joy and fun.   

Many of the ideas are simple and in fact I’ve seen many examples in local schools, but the impact we could have by integrating 9, 10 or all 11 of the ideas would be wonderful to see.

vision in a cloud

Recently I had the opportunity to briefly address around 900 teachers in the school District where I serve as an Education Council member.  The primary purpose of District Councils in New Brunswick is to set the overall vision and goals that are in turn operationalized by District Staff.  We are beginning a new 4 year term and will be undertaking a great deal of strategic planning in the next few months – finding a common focus, revisiting mission statements, goals and strategies, and reinvigorating our education plan. 

While I was officially at the event to bring greetings on behalf of the Council, I decided to take the opportunity to invite teachers to get involved in our strategic planning. I thought it best to give them an example of what the future could look like.  I described for them one vision of the future referenced in the OECD’s excellent document Schooling for Tomorrow, which I referenced in the post “The school is dead…Long live the school“. (Hence the prevalence of the word “scenario” in the above cloud). 

I’ve played around with various Wordle clouds since finding this tool several months ago, and I’ve read some interesting points of view as edtech bloggers have played with the tool and debated the educational value of it. This is the first time I’ve used it to really analyze a piece of my writing for content and I have the following observations:

  • Wordle is a lot of fun. I enjoy playing with the fonts, colours and other alterable aspects.
  • But it can be more than fun.  Finding the right combinations to convey the message you want is a good exercise. I chose the above cloud for the separation it created for the word “learning” – it was the central focus of my remarks and I like how it floats on its own.
  • It is amazing how many different words one can say in a few minutes. Too many words can be distracting from the message so I cut this cloud down to the top 100 words.
  • I created this wordle cloud after the fact, but there is great potential to use the tool ahead of time to help me shape the message I want to convey. 
  • I use the word “really” much too often. 

There are a lot of people playing around with Wordle – try it for yourself and check out the gallery.  It is a great little tool – for work and for play.

An interesting website is developing over at The site is designed around the work of the 21st Century Learning Initiative (John Abbott), is funded by the Canadian Council on Learning, and administered by Classroom Connections. The partners are hoping to draft “a movement to radically transform education” and they are hoping to draw more of us into the movement:

It is the hope of all three organizations that this site will be used by youth, educators, parents and community members as a place to make connections, explore ideas, share experiences and get support. By facilitating discussions around the site and around the idea of transforming education, we can begin the process of shifting public consciousness and inspire a groundswell of activities, initiatives and pressure that will be a force for the re-invention of education.

Last summer I attended one of John Abbott’s lectures titled “Let Children be Children” and was very interested in his theories about how brain research should be integrated into how we design our learning systems. At you can find many links to Abbott’s work as well as many other resources. The site brings an interesting mix of information together: research papers, videos, blogs and forums. Topics are varied and include motivation, engagement, creativity and 21st century skills. 

This website is aiming to bring together all those with a passion for public education in Canada to share information and ideas.  It is still in the early stages, but hopefully others will join in soon and we really can CHANGE LEARNING.

On Consultation and Engagement

I’ve just returned from a day long meeting hosted by the provincial Department of Education regarding a controversial decision made by the Minister in this province. Near the end of the day a comment was made that the round table discussion seemed to move us beyond “consultation” into the realm of “engagement“. It is a comment that distracted me all the way home.

Stakeholders at each “level” (province, district, school) have the authority to make certain decisions, as well as the capacity to involve other stakeholders in decision making. Every few years we endure swings from centralization to decentralization and each time we create confusion, lack of empowerment, and dis-engagement of stakeholders at all levels. Our public education system is very bureaucratic and protective and though it often consults the public, it rarely engages the public in collaborative decision making.

A greater emphasis on collaborative decisions made through public engagement would mean better decisions and likely greater satisfaction with the results. So while the Minister would have the ultimate authority for any major decision, support for decisions made via a collaborative effort would be greater and the political price for the decision easier to absorb.

How do we move from schools as factories to schools as community learning centres? How do we foster collaborative decision making? How do we engage reluctant participants? How do we make sure students are full participants in the decision-making process? Which decisions do we need to work together on, and which decisions should each of us be empowered to make on our own?

I have more questions than answers, but I hope that what I experienced today was the beginning of citizen engagement in public education in NB.

Reflections on QESBA Internet Report

Sharon Peters recently blogged her thoughts on the recent report by the Quebec English School Boards Association on Internet Use.  I was curious to find out if the report looked at how school boards and their associated schools used Internet tools to communicate with parents and communities so I read the full report (Towards Empowerment, Respect and Accountability  PDF here). 

While the research did not address my questions it did make some very interesting recommendations about involving parents in the development of a technology-rich school environment.  The report clearly encourages us to move from seeing the Internet as a “threat” to embracing it as an “opportunity”.

The QESBA Task Force set out a framework of prinicples to guide policy and practice which includes the following:

…parents can and must be active partners in better understanding the dynamics and impact of new technologies on their children, and in engaging and guiding them in the responsible and accountable use of those technologies.

There are many good recommendations in the report, but the following are pertinent to parental involvement.

  • Educate and involve community partners in responsible and informed Internet use
    • Involve students, teachers and parents directly in developing and delivering (as well as receiving) information, skills and approaches on rules of Internet use, conduct and respect for privacy.
    • Enhance on-going and open communications between school and home on these issues. Seek to involve the co-operation, collaboration and participation of parents who are a key source behind the possibility for action and change.
    • Provide accessible materials, interactive training for interested parents on Internet use and abuse, appropriate supervision techniques and modeling behavior for their own consideration.

The authors of the report also recognized the importance of involving students in this process. I particularly like the following statement:

The task force has learned of a pressing need for educational and transformative approaches and preventative practices to more fully engage students in dialogue, provide them with responsibility, leadership and learning opportunities within ethical frameworks that guide both young people and adult stakeholders to appreciate the impact of their words and expressions on others.  

And this recommendation:

  • Encourage young technology users to work with adults to teach them more about the technologies, and show confidence in their expertise.

 The QESBA report encourages a reasoned, balanced and collaborative approach to embracing 21C tools. Hopefully it will be read by school boards and governance bodies across Canada.

Thank you Sharon for bringing it to my attention.

How much is too much?

Recently Cindy Seibel wrote a post asking the question “Can there be too much information for parents?” (you can read her post “Is it ever too much?” here and read the original story in the NY Times “I know what you did in Math Classhere)

As a parent interested in engaging other parents in our education system I wondered if these web service companies would go beyond what a parent would need to assess their own child’s performance – could they be used to increase the involvement of parents in schools, and ultimately to engage parents in school improvement planning? I decided to explore a few of these commercial school data systems and as in everything I found there is a wide variety of services – some simply offer parents access to information on grades, homework, and attendance, while others go much further and provide tools for multi-level communication and collaboration.   

Those of us involved in education governance often discuss the role of communication in increasing parent involvement/engagement, we talk about the processof communication.  Some of us see great potential in using web technology to improve this process – to reach more people where they are, when they want and how they want. Web tools such as blogs, wikis, nings and webcasts provide us with a lot of options for reaching parents (and many of them are free!). So in the absence of an integrated school community management system accessible to parents these tools could be quite useful.

But what kind of information should we be sharing to improve collaboration? What do parents need to know and discuss in order to be engaged in schools?

In my province we are a long way from finding that tipping point from enough information to too much.  A large number of parents I talk to do not feel really connected to what is happening with their child in the classroom, and fewer are aware of what is happening educationally on a school wide basis. They want to have more frequent contact with classroom teachers as well as school administrators. Until parents feel there is adequate communication with teachers and principals can we really expect them to feel comfortable in a open, collaborative school improvement process?

Who will bring the ham?

It has been almost two months since my last post.   Before I return to my personal learning network and exploring how parents can use web tools to connect with education, I need to write about why I’ve been quiet for so long. 

Some time ago I wrote about curiosity and being an only child who read a lot of books and newspapers.  That early love of current events, exploring opinion, and getting the facts was spurred by my father.  He taught me many things and he shaped my personality in many ways.  

And now he is gone. The loss came too soon. In less than six months a very active man with so much to give and so much to teach became very ill.  The person who could fix anything finally had to put down his tools.

While much of what happened in early May is a blur, I do know that we could not have gotten through it without the help of our friends, neighbours, and close relatives. So many acts of kindness came our way – so many brought food – enough food to feed us for days, complete meals, no fewer than four full meals centered around beautiful baked hams.   

Life does move on and so must I.  In the last few weeks I’ve been able to catch up with piles of posts in my feedreader, peak into Twitter, update my Facebook page and listen to some great podcasts that I missed while I was unplugged. But most importantly, I’ve spent time connecting with family and friends face to face. 

As much as I believe that technology can help us form new communities – groups of people who will help us learn, give us guidance and support, open our eyes to new ideas – our online network simply cannot replace our friends and neighbours.  During a time of profound grief, when you need someone to sit in a hospital room with you all night long, or you need a shoulder to cry on,  or you need a hot meal, it is those people who are close to you that will get you through.

So for all of us who are working hard to use technology to create and support online relationships – we must also remember to nurture our offline relationships.  We have to be sure to take care of and connect with those people who will be good enough to bring the ham.  

The school is dead…long live the school.

While blogging as a means of personal learning is still very new to me, the reading and writing I’ve done in the last few days authenticates the value of this format for me. Participating in this type of learning means assembling a personal learning network (PLN) and my network, while still small, contributed to my learning coming full circle in very big ways.

 The progression went something like this:

A few days ago I read a thought provoking post called “Letting Go” by Alec Couros which contained this…

What if you know deep down that schools need to change drastically or cease to exist at all before there will ever be any significant change? What if you feel you are just prolonging the inevitable, and simply giving temporary life to a model that is clearly in its death throes?

This theme of our model of education needing a monumental shift in order to serve 21C learners is very prevalent in the edublogosphere. Almost everyone writes about it in some way and some even suggest abandoning schools altogether . I wanted to develop my own thoughts here at Tools of Engagement but didn’t have the time to devote so I commented:

… while I believe that what goes on inside our schools MUST change, we need to use technology to engage students and help each of them to grow a large web of flat world relationships, we must also see our schools as social places, as communities, where we come together to learn rather than teach.

Now that I’m taking the time to expand on my thinking I’ve revisited some experiences from 2007 that I learned a great deal from. There were two key events I attended last year (both sponsored by the NB Department of Education) that convinced me that while our schools must change there is a place for them in future learning models.

The first event was Let Children be Children (slides) presented by John Abbott of the 21st Century Learning Initiative.  This lecture provided much insight into how we can move from teaching to learning, from the factory school to the community school,  and from teacher directed learning to self directed learning. The vision of 21st Century Learning Initiative is:

New understandings about the brain; about how people learn; about the potential of information and communication technologies;about radical changes in patterns of work as well as deep fears about social divisions in society, necessitate a profound rethinking of the structures of education.

Developing schools that integrate the home, the school and the community and that employ emerging technologies to engage all partners in a learning community are essential.  

The second learning event was Literacy & Learning in the 21st Century with keynote by David Warlick. David delivered his message that it is not about the technology but about how we redefine and integrate literacy in the new digital landscape. Literacy in the 21C is “exposing truth” (reading), “expressing ideas” (writing) “employing information” (‘rithmatic) AND tying it all together “ethics”.  At this conference David implored teachers to “let them see you learn“. It’s a phrase I’ve quoted in a few speeches and advice I’ve taken with my own children.

To come full circle – a link recently tweeted by Cindy Siebel led me to Innovative Learning Service (ILS) part of the Calgary Board of Education.  I spent several hours soaking up information and finished with a determination to encourage a similar approach to innovation and 21C learning here at home.

One of the items explored at the site is the OECD’s six scenarios for the future of schooling.  I particularly liked #4 Schools as Social Centres as it brings the ideas of Abbott and Warlick together: 

  • Digital technologies will enable schooling to become a far more shared endeavor.
  • Schools and other community organizations, (family, libraries, the work place, churches etc…) will assume a shared responsibility for the education of the young.   Expertise is activated from wherever it is located.  
  • Teacher professionals will be defined more around understanding the nature of learning and of brain research rather than around a comprehensive understanding of the disciplines.
  • Teachers will recognize that continuous professional development both around digital technologies and learning theory will be essential. Schools will recognize the necessity and desirability for constant interaction with the community.
  • Schools and teachers are seen as leaders in this endeavour and are elevated to a position of influence and esteem in the communities they serve.  
  • Here digital technologies will emphasize communication among and by all stakeholders in the equation – learners, educators, community members and parents.
  • Networking is what it is all about.

So “the school is dead” as a factory, as kill and drill, as talk and chalk, and as institutionalized curriculum with little regard for digital literacy.

And “long live the school” as a student centred, community supported, collaborative, connected place to for all of us to learn.

Special thanks to Cindy for tweeting the ILS nugget and to Lorna and Jeff for convincing me that Twitter can be a valuable tool in a developing a personal learning network.