Are teachers content management systems?

On Friday I tweeted this:

It has since been retweeted by a couple of my PLN. So why did I tweet it and why might it resonate with other tweachers?

When the thought came to me I was hastily preparing for the first meeting of my school’s new PBL Research Team (more on this to come) and in doing so I was looking at the data from a DER in Stage 6 survey I collected last year. The survey was completed twice – once by teachers and once by Year 10 students. Essentially I asked both teachers and students what their expectations were for DER in Stage 6. (For my international readers, DER is the 1-1 initiative of our current federal government that aims to give a laptop to every student in Years 9-10, and Stage 6 refers to the highest level of secondary schooling in NSW – culminating in the external Higher School Certificate examinations.)

Here are some of the questions I included in the survey:

Responses from both surveys were very similar – students and teachers did not expect to use the netbooks often in class. The only technology that both groups wished to see being used was IWBs – and this would be as little as once a fortnight. If netbooks were used they would be used for accessing information on the internet. The responses weren’t unexpected – these students have been conditioned by a lifetime of school-setting education exposure to see education as ‘the filling of a pail’ – they are the empty vessels waiting to be filled by teacher. And teachers have been conditioned to see themselves in the same way. Stage 6 means big pressure for teachers and students – no one wants to fail, therefore no one wants to risk being set on fire. My analogy for teachers is the content management system – but the irony of course is that we are not robots, we have not been programmed to work in the seamless, repetitive and reliable way that a CMS can. So the acceptance of teachers as CMS actually necessitates failure.

Here is a definition of a CMS I found which relates nicely to how teachers are viewed by governments, parents and media and therefore shapes how teachers see themselves:

‘A CMS or Content Management System is used for the control and editing of content. Content includes electronic files, images and video based media, audio files, electronic documents and web text.’ (Source:

I like this definition because it engages with digital media – something many teachers are beginning to do more regularly since the introduction of DER. But the ‘control and editing’ of this digital content still stays firmly in the hands of the teacher.

I came across another type of CMS – the ‘Learning Content Management System’ when I was googling CMS (Yes, I had a normal person look and went to wikipedia)

‘LCMS is software for managing learning content across an organization’s various training development areas. It provides developers, authors, instructional designers, and subject matter experts the means to create and re-use e-learning content …’ (Source:

The same essence is repeated even though this is specifically for ‘learning’ – the underlying assumption is that there is ‘content’ that must be ‘delivered’ to students after having been ‘created’ by ‘developers, authors, instructional designers, and subject matter experts’. Replace ‘delivered’ with ‘taught’ and ‘developers’ with ‘teacher’ and you get something like the Victorian ideal which is ‘teachers teach content’ … lol.

There is hope for teachers though! I discovered that you can buy a digital teacher online – see:

‘Ecampus LMS is a learning management system that gives organisations the tools and support they need to create and manage elearning content, manage student data and asses students.’ (Source:

OK – I’m being silly, but the three things that the LMS does, according to the blurb, is what teachers are given responsibility for: create and manage content, manage student data and assess students. There just isn’t room for lighting fires – so don’t bother, OK? I mean – education is important, right? *insert sarcastic tone*.

Where am I going with this? Well, I too am a teacher and I too feel the awful mounting pressures of the need to fill students with content necessary to excel in the end of year examination. My Stage 6 class badly want the content – I can see it in their eyes, ‘Please Miss, please just write on the board what we need to know and let us put it in our essays!’ And I know what needs to go in there. But so far I have been resistant to ‘give’ it to them that easily – I have refused to ‘reduce’ the world of literature and ideas  (which in my current case is the man himself, Mr W. Shakespeare) to an essay scaffold and dot points. Does that make me a bad teacher? Well it makes me feel like one. So my solution is to write a blog for them where I put up (in my own words) what they need to know to ace the test. And then I rethink this decision – because isn’t doing that just moving me one step closer to being a CMS/LCMS/LMS?

I know I’m going to do it anyway. I know I should get them to make the blog and write the posts. BUT I also know that they have pressures from other subjects and tell me repeatedly there is no time to do extra work like writing blog posts and making prezis. So, I’ll do it for them. I will. And one day the work I’m initiating with PBL in the more junior years will pay off because these future (and ideal) students will laugh at my vain attempts to maintain power by controlling the information. They will tell me I am a broken-down filing cabinet that needs to move into the 21st century.

And I will laugh with them as we all dance in the fire.

Helping high school students understand the value of a PLN and PLE

At the end of Year 10 in NSW there is a significant gap between the final external examination – the School Certificate – and when the students can actually leave school. Schools come up with a variety of methods to engage the students during these difficult weeks – in Australia the end of a school year is Summer. No student wants to be at school if they feel they don’t ‘need’ to be when the sky is blue and the surf is up.

At our school a program called the ‘Fab Fortnight’ has been developed in which students are treated to a variety of guest speakers talking to them about a range of topics from managing their credit rating to managing their studies in Year 11 and 12. Last year I was asked to present to the students on ‘Effective PowerPoint Use’ – something passionate to me as I have been tortured with many a terrible PowerPoint presentation! This year I was asked to repeat that session and I offered to run a second session on Web 2.0 tools in Stage 6. I was inspired to present on this by my PLN mentor Darcy Moore who had given a similar presentation to his Year 11 students. You can see his blog post here and his prezi from the session here.

I titled my presentation ‘Unleashing the Web 2.o Beast – Making the Most of Web in Years 11 & 12’. Having just created a survey on DER in Stage 6 (Years 11 & 12 – the final schooling years in Australian secondary schools) for teachers at my school  and seeing from initial responses that many teachers had not altered their teaching programs to incorporate technology nor had they planned to use the netbooks in their classes, I felt slightly anxious about presenting on Web 2.0 to Year 10. Despite this I was determined to help them appreciate the role that PLE (Personal Learning Environments) and PLN (Personal Learning Networks) can play in learning. I demonstrated PLN to them through a quick activity where they were forced to create groups based on disparate characteristics – shoe size, height, street address etc and then use this group to answer three questions drawn from Math, Science and English – they had to network in order to get the answers! I also showed them a question I had posed to teachers via edmodo – students could read their immediate replies and appreciate how asking often garners answers!

I moved on to the power of a PLE by showing them some Web 2.0 tools that can help establish their own individual learning environment. I reminded them that these were NOT necessarily tools that they would be asked to use by their teachers, but rather tools that could be used by them independently. I suggested they could show these to their teachers – who would surely be impressed by this tool and by the student’s initiative. These tools were categorised by Darcy into ten useful categories – see my prezi here.

After enduring my prezi and looking at a couple of examples of the tools being used, the students were sent off to the computer rooms to play around with the tools. They had a task – create a Top 5 Web 2.0 Tools for the HSC list and post this to edmodo with links. I wanted them to play – but they also needed a goal as keeping them on task at this time of the year us quite challenging!

Whilst presenting I noted a number of blank-looking faces … I even heard a few students chatting and saw supervising teachers ‘having a talk’ with them about their inappropriate behaviour. At the end of the session, when students were moved off to the computer rooms, I felt pretty flat. They didn’t seem terribly engaged and I felt that they weren’t interested in the tools. I know I kept saying ‘basically’ too much as well ‘this is really cool’. I felt like a complete geek. I even tweeted about my feelings of failure.

Thankfully my self-deprecation was (for once) unnecessary. Returning to my staffroom and logging into edmodo I saw the Fab Fortnight group getting a lot of new posts – the students were actually doing the task! The students HAD been listening – and they understood what I was talking about. You can see their responses to the task here.

I know not all students and their teachers want to see technology in their classes next year – I have the survey data to prove it. But what I do know is that these tools can (and will) help students to keep themselves organised, to help them collaborate, research and remember the content that will help them get through the HSC. This type of student assessment is not ideal, but it’s what we’ve got. I hope the presentation helped them to better understand the role that a PLN and PLE can play in their future success.

The Teacher-leader Conundrum

If you have read my previous post, you will know that in two days I will be presenting at the Office of School’s Conference – Engaging Learners Through Innovative Practice. I was encouraged to submit and EOI for this conference by a twitter colleague, Ben Jones. Having spent a lot of time communicating with a fellow English teacher and twitter colleague, Troy Martin, I asked Troy to co-present with me on leading the implementation of the Digital Education Revolution at our schools. I found writing the EOI difficult, but was pleased (and nervous) that it was ultimately accepted.

(NOTE: If you want to ignore my ramblings, and help out a teacher-leader in need, scroll to my last paragraph! 😉 )

My vision for the conference was simple – share our experiences, our strategies and our visions for the future. Simple, right? Well, no. I created a PowerPoint (I personally loathe watching PPs but felt it was the best mode of delivery for me, using it as mostly timed slides, like a ‘movie’ with lots of images and short prompts for us to talk to) and shared it on twitter and this blog via SlideShare. I got feedback. It was positive. I felt content. Then I started to think, really think.

And then I read a series of twitter posts by my PLN nobility, Kelli McGraw, Jan Green, Tony Searl, Darcy Moore and Jacqueline Woodley. The focus was on leading change – just how can leaders encourage teachers to change from 20th century education model, to a 21st century education model?

Reading kelli’s blog post really cemented a position I had been edging towards in the last few weeks – at what point to I ‘let go’ and allow teachers to learn independently. How much professional development should I ‘deliver’ to teachers? Is being an enthusiastic and energetic promoter of blended learning enough? What level of change/adaption can I expect from my colleagues?

Kelli and Jan lead me to Roger Pryor’s blog post on leading from behind. It is odd how things come together at pivotal moments. Roger’s quotes from Mandella had a powerful effect on me. It reminded me of a video that Troy showed me via a skype chat one night many months ago – it’s in our presentation – Leadership Lessons from the Dancing Guy. I am lucky. I was a lone nut that was nourished by her environment, given time and resources to explore the changes in education that technology is facilitating. And then, through a combination of hard work, passion and sheer luck I attracted a handful of first followers. BUT I have let them down – I have failed to nourish them in return, failed to guide them, to grow them, to support them.

I’d like some help from my PLN and my new readers – how can I become a better leader now that I have surpassed the lone nut phase. I have shown them what is possible and why. Where to now? I feel change is important, but perhaps I have neglected focusing on why it is important. I need to refocus on outcomes – what is it that teachers desire from their learners. How do they do this now and how can technology be used to enhance this? Each teacher needs to be asked ‘why change what I’m doing’? How can I encourage MY learners (the teachers) to engage with this question honestly? How can I make it fun and meaningful when teacher time is so precious?

Thanks in advance. I present this Thursday.


Staff Development Days …

Today was another one of those often dreaded days … staff development day.

In the last 12 months Staff Development Day has had new meaning for me. With the introduction of the Digital Education Revolution, I was given my first taste of presenting to my peers. The first experience (I can’t even remember what I presented on) proved anxiety inducing: sweaty palms, heart palpitations … the lot! I found it much harder to present in front of my peers than in front of students.

So how do I overcome my anxiety?

I try to focus hard on the people speaking before me. I take a great deal of notes and I find this really keeps my mind from the task ahead. Of course this is not always possible – sometimes no one is on before me. So what do I do then? Hold the hand of a colleague – literally. I find that it makes me think about how they’re feeling and that diverts my attention. Finally, if I don’t have anyone around me to hold my hand, then I write a list of what I have to say or I chat to people near me.

Presenting to your peers is daunting – but what I’ve realised is that the nerves disappear the more and more you present. I still get a little jittery, but I overcome it eventually and the excitement of sharing something new with my colleagues and friends ultimately dominates.

What presentation style/teaching strategy did I use to ‘teach the teachers’?

For me, being humble and silly is the best approach. It’s the same style I use with my classes. I mix this up with (what I think is) sound knowledge about my topic and easy to understand instructions. I always show an inspiring or funny video that breaks up the ‘me-ness’ about the presentation. The video is always embedded into the DER edmodo group as this positively models the use of edmodo to the teachers – reminding many to check the site to see what new resources have been uploaded. I always use tech to support me – using tools that teachers are both familiar with and unfamiliar with. Finally, I ask my audience questions. Mostly these are closed-questions designed to give instant gratification to the group (they all know the answer) but I’ll also include a couple of open-ended questions (but often it’s hard to create a genuine discussion with a limited presentation time – sad, but true).

Presenting to your colleagues, I believe, encourages you to consider best teaching practice. I am constantly questioning the effectiveness of my presentation style and the design of my material. The problem I constantly face with staff ‘PD’ is the limited time I am given. As much as I would love to use a more playful and active mode of delivery, it simply is impossible in a 15-30 minute block. Ideally a half-day of PD is necessary to allow for delivery of simple instruction on tool, time to play, discussion/thought about application in the classroom and then sharing of these ideas via group discussion with colleagues. A quick and effective alternative to 1/2 day PD was designed by Ben Jones, what he refers to as 15 minutes play (more on this in a moment).

I was asked to present on DER at our SDD today. I was given 1/2 an hour. With little chance of getting any hands-on PD happening in that time, I was feeling a little unsure of what good I would be standing at the from of the room. One of the benefits of being part of a twitter PLN is that I am contantly re-evaluating my teaching practice -and this goes for my presentations to staff. The 21st education model sees a dramatic (and necessary) shift away from the teacher as filler of empty pails, to teacher as fire-lighter on the side (some of my more academic colleagues refer to this as ‘facilitating’). As a consequence I feel uncomfortable standing at the front of a room in front of 60 adults ‘telling’ them how technology should be integrated in their classrooms. That’s not really my ‘role’ as the DER person at school (yep, I’m pretty sure that is what my title is ‘DER person’ … not too Romantic, but oh well!) … I’m just there to show some cool stuff and help those who might be stuck or feeling scared.

After thinking long (and probably not very hard) about what I should present, I decided that I would use the time to let the staff know what the plans were for the DAGs (Davo DER Action Group) this term. The idea of a regular DER newsletter was something I was very keen on and I was hoping to create one similar to that used by Prue Greene from Curriculum Support. Unfortunately though, after many emails to and from Prue (she is a gem!) and hours of ‘playing’ with MS Word and trying to insert images into a DET email, I asked my twitter PLN and wammoo help arrived in the form of Mr Ben Jones. After an online conference chat Ben had convinced me that email newsletters were passe and that I should explore the power of Adobe PDF portfolios. In using this program I would be creating an interactive newsletter full of different file types, as well as modeling a new tool for the teachers. (Aside: I think Ben just might be some kind of freaky genius, feel free to direct all future questions to him. I have it on good counsel that he never sleeps!)

Sooo … (yes, I will end this post at SOME point) today’s session saw me presenting a range of things to my colleagues. I had initially been given 30 min, this was cut to 15 mins as the principal spoke for longer than expected BUT a second guest speaker failed to show and I was handed the ‘fill the time with something please, Bianca’ card. I was very grateful for the no-show. I had an hour – woo hoo!

This is what I did:

1. The first thing I showed was the awesome clip Stuck on an Escalator (thanks Dean Groom, another PLN genius, for his suggestion to use this clip) and this generator a great deal of laughter. Having watched the video I asked them to reflect briefly on possible analogies between the learned-helplessness of the people on the elevator and their own personal experience with technology and teaching in general.(Note: This YouTube clip was embedded into the DER edmodo group to positively model use of edmodo and remind people to check the group regularly for new posts, links, files etc)

2. I then showed the eNewsletter that I assemble using Adobe Acrobate 9 Extened Pro (hope I got that massive name right!). Included in this PDF were a variety of different file types: videos, images, word docs, folders and PDFs.  I explained the benefits of using an eNewsletter in this format: very portable (the portfolio saves as a PDF and can be read on any computer as long as it has Adobe Reader 9), multiple file types can be included, it looks pretty, very user-friendly like most Adobe products etc.

3.Within the portfolio I had included a list of the DER PD workshops that would run during the term. There will be one each week during a lunch time and these will run along the Communicate Collaborate Create framework (inspired by Pip Cleaves and Roger Pryor).

4. I also looked closely at a PDF that I created explaining the 15 minutes of play method of Professional Development devised by Ben Jones.

His formula is: 2x 15min play + 15min learning design + 15min sharing = 1hr Profession Development

5.We then briefly discussed as a group the potential education applications of this tool. (formative assessment vs summative, student-created text-books for younger years etc)

6. I then demonstrated how easy portfolios are to assemble (it’s just ‘drag and drop’) and let those people with netbooks have a play with using the tool.

7. Finally I made a presentation to four members of staff who are what I’ve labeled ‘first-followers’ thanks to a video on leadership called ‘Leadership Lessons from the Dancing Guy’ shown to me by Troy Martin (a fantastic writer and teacher who I am excited to call a colleague and a friend). These four teachers have actively contributed to our DER edmodo group and have taken to experimenting with a variety of web 2.0 apps despite not being what you would call ‘tech savvy’. Each teacher was given a bottle of wine. The success of this initiative has already paid off as three of the four had posted more resources for staff to use within three hours of the presentation!

Well, that’s about enough for me for now. I hope that some of what I have posted comes in handy for a teacher or leader advocating the use of technology in the classroom to enhance learning somewhere in the world.

PS: I just remembered that my principal asked me to write a one page summary of DER at our school for the school website. Hmmm … maybe I could just add a link to the DER edmodo group, wiki, my class blogs and to this blog?