Category Archives: Edutech

Are we putting the cart before the horse?

Every time I go to a conference I always hear that we should put learning and pedagogy first before the device or technology. But how does a teacher connect learning; pedagogy and content to the device if they don’t understand or see what the capabilities of the device or tech is.

Should the edutech cart be before the learning horse?

Conferences like Teach Tech Play connect the dots between content, pedagogy and technology. Yes it should always be about learning but to transform your classroom you need to understand what the device can do and connect it to learning. Without this there will not be meaningful learning for your students. Teachers need to be supported in this quest and have the opportunity to explore the device and its capabilities in order to transform learning with technology. It’s the sandpit approach first, let them play, let them discover then target professional learning for them.

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Check out more on the TPACK model here

For me this is what is at the core of the TPACK model. In order for the classroom to be transformed by technology teachers need the knowledge of the technology itself. To an extent it is just as much about the device/technology and what it can do. The TPACK model highlights the need to blend all three elements together in order to impact learning.  I think it is very naive to not consider the technology and how to use it, just as much as it is to say we all need to be a paperless classroom. This is what makes conferences like Teach Tech Play so powerful. It blends all of these things into meaningful learning opportunities for teachers. It isn’t all about the device, it’s about the device, pedagogy and content which equals learning. You need to see the possibilities of how this can enhance learning for students, without it you will never integrate technology into your classroom. 


How do you get that blend?

For me it’s about getting these things right for change management.


It starts with the culture of your school. Does your school encourage and build capacity of staff? Does it give staff autonomy over their learning? Do staff collaborate and share their successes? Failures? Do staff have a common goal they are trying to achieve about learning?

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Are your school structures adaptive and do they allow for collaborative and innovative practice?


I’m not talking about the technology type, it is an investment in human capital. Do you have the support of learning champions – staff and students that can guide, challenge and motivate teachers? Do they have time to support you?


Do you have a leader in EdTech that is setting the tone for continued improvement and high expectations for digital learning. Do they have a vision? Are they building capacity of teachers? Are they getting people excited? Are they resourcing it? Are they supportive?

Professional development:

Is there targeted professional learning for teachers around technical knowledge and connecting the dots of pedagogy, content and technology. Is it planned, intentional and ongoing – it never stops, is it individually tailored to each teachers needs and wants. Does it recognise that all teachers need different support and guidance. Is it building the skills of teachers?

Get these things right and you may just change your school. Remember it’s about the blend of technology knowledge, pedagogy knowledge and content knowledge. Don’t put one in front of the other, you need equal understanding of each to impact and improve learning.


It’s time to kill the timetable 

On a recent trip to Ballarat and visiting Sovereign Hill (which was ace, if you live in Melbourne go there!)  it became very obvious that schools haven’t moved on for years! Dare I say hundreds of years. Students sit in rows, move in blocks of time, every second is timetabled. Stepping back to Ballarat of the 1800’s the School resembled so much of what schools still look like today. A room with rows, a board, sit, be quiet and learn. When will we get it? There is so much talk about moving schools into contemporary learning places but how much is actually getting done and what is stopping us? Are we slaves to final year examinations? Is the University entrance process flawed and not supporting 21st competencies? We know examinations don’t assess the skills required to thrive in the 21st century. Yet we are still following a system that is decades old and not allowing students to deepen their learning experience. We just scratch the surface of learning.

The work of John Medina in brain rules highlights this:

Our schools are designed so that most real learning has to occur at home. If you wanted to create an education environment that was directly opposed to what the brain was good at doing, you probably would design something like a classroom.

This graphic by Richard Wells pretty much sums up what we all know about our schools. The timetable is killing learning. Why we expect students to attend 6 chucks of time at 50 minutes each day and hope they are digging deep with their learning is one of the biggest flaws of our current school structures.

What do I want to see? Extended time where students can drive their learning. Time given to students  which allows them to go deeper with their learning. That the school day is not dictated by times, bells and lets students learn in an organic way. The way the brain was meant to learn.

Let’s get to the What Ifs

  • What if we didn’t have a timetable?
  • What if we didn’t have subjects?
  • What if students only came to school when they needed support?
  • What if schools were agile enough to flip everything in 20 minutes?
  • What if true creativity and innovation were in schools – not just the rhetorical we hear?

Let’s face it did we ever think we would see the day when collecting images and experiences online and curating them would be a thing. Nope but it is and it’s Pinterest. What about a company that provides taxi services but doesn’t have any taxi’s? Uber another example of disruptive thinking. What if we changed the time table in the same way. What if student’s came to school to learn and not just move from class to class. What if we changed how we use time? Is our current school structures killing learning? The short answer……..yes

Trying to dig deep with a flipped classroom

I have been a ‘fanboy’ of the flipped classroom for sometime, having built up confidence in totally flipping my subjects and seeing the many benefits a flipped environment brings. One of the main areas that I have been really happy with is how the flipped classroom allows the class to dig a little deeper into active learning. It’s a big misconception that the flipped classroom is about making videos and placing them online, sure that’s one part of it. It’s an important part of the puzzle as its forces you to focus on the explicit content you would like students to know. Making a 5 – 8 minute lesson isn’t easy, but it certainly makes you consider what your learning objectives are . The real power of the flipped classroom is what happens the next day in class. Lets face it who wouldn’t want more time for students to dig deeper into their learning via projects, self and peer assessment and timely feedback. The flipped classroom opens up these opportunities. My main goal is to go deeper and have students participate in a richer active learning experience where I become more of a coach to guide their learning. The classes become much more collaborative in nature where students are solving complex problems with an emphasis on higher order and critical thinking skills.

As Prensky highlights that the technology today’s learners have grown up with has ‘induced today’s students to think and process information fundamentally different from their predecessors’ (Prensky 2001, p.1). We know our students access, process and create information in very different ways and are moving away from more classical approaches to teaching and learning in order to engage students and move beyond retention. It is a mistake to focus solely on the technology as its the active lesson which really makes this a powerful pedagogical approach to learning.

If we look at this in the context of a ‘traditional’ classroom most of the focus is on the remembering and understanding stages of Bloom’s Taxonomy, processing information and content. Students then move to the more difficult thinking processes at home by themselves.


Bloom’s Taxonomy ©

No expert support, no feedback, no collaboration. Why? With todays technology there is not much point for students to be spoon feed information in class. Class time is for active learning not passively soaking up content. I know I want my students to be pushing the boundaries of their thinking into the higher levels of Blooms Taxonomy. Essentially in the flipped classroom the opposite happens, the remembering and understanding is at home and the difficult learning of application, analysing, evaluating and creating happens in class. Flipping is more than videos is about class time and what can be achieved. This time is spent, supporting students through the difficult tasks of learning and thinking, making the lessons more engaging, collaborative and about feedback. It allows students to be the drivers of their learning, they can self regulate their journey. For us we can listen for learning and personally engage with each student or groups of students. This is where I see the power of this learning. Screen Shot 2015-06-20 at 11.47.17 amLets flip Bloom for the 21st century, it now looks like this. With this new model of Blooms Taxonomy the passive learning is where students can watch lessons at home about content – remembering and understanding.  The active and deeper learning is in class.

Where to start

It’s important to start a flipped journey well and sensibly. I didn’t completely flip my class at the beginning. I made a few lessons, learnt from the experience and moved to more lessons. I arrived at the point where everything is now flipped and I am adaptable enough to make new lessons when questions are raised in class. Before I moved to a flipped classroom I spoke to my students about ‘why’. Why are we moving to this, what are the benefits, how will you learn. We did some training around note taking, expectations and how to participate with lessons. I also taught my students how to watch videos and take notes during the lessons. This made a significant difference in a seamless setup. It’s always important to give students a voice and be part of the learning decision.

The setup

There are many platforms and apps out there that can be used to flip your class. I have used many and found that a combination of an iBook, LMS – Schoology, educreations and YouTube a great combination. The iBook provides the framework for students to access all project assessments and the required content lessons. The setup provides a sequential order for students to work through at their own pace. It also provides feedback regarding assessment rubrics and how to access the required ‘post up’ activities during the lessons. I have found this to be the most efficient way to deliver the required outcomes to my students. All students have access to a MacBook Pro or an iPad which makes this a really a seamless integration of platforms.

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An example of the sequential lessons in an iBook, all hyper linked to specific learning requirements. 

This is complemented by our LMS – Schoology. Schoology has excellent features that can place restrictions over the access of content, making it self paced. Of course some students don’t watch the lessons, this is less about the method of the flipped classroom and more about normal behavioural issues regarding ‘homework’. What works is that you can setup student completion requirements around the content meaning students can only move onto to certain lessons once they have completed the requirements . This has been great in supporting those students that don’t watch the lessons at home. They realise pretty fast that they must engage with the lessons at home in order to fully participate with the classroom activities. They also can’t move on to the next lesson unless they contribute and participate. Schoology also has excellent analytics capabilities.  I can capture data on when lessons have been accessed and by whom.


An example of the student requirements setup in schoology

Activities during the lesson are also important, as it provides me with feedback on what our next lesson looks like. Simple ‘hinge’ type questions that can provide a quick snap shot are great,  informing me what we do next and what targeting learning I can give to individual students. Check out my post on hinge questions here. Hinge Questions.

The importance of creating a student centred approach within the Flipped Classroom approach is paramount (Flipped Learning network 2014, p.1). Gorman (cited in Hamdan et al. 2013) states that

‘any learner centred educator would provide activities in the classroom that are action based, authentic, connected and collaborative, innovative, high level, engaging, experience based, project based, inquiry based and self actualising’

(Hamdan et al. 2013, p.12). Roehl et al. (2013, p.48) suggests that the Flipped Classroom approach incorporates a combination of these ‘in class’ activities described by Gorman along with an innovative use of technology, all which leads to ‘higher order thinking skills among students’

Flipping your class takes time, but I would argue that this is the new way learning should happen. Embedded technology, active learning and engaged students.

A video I created for our staff day about flipped learning

Prensky, M 2001, ‘Digital natives, digital immigrants’, On the Horizon, vol. 9, no.5, p. 1-6.

Hamdan, N, McKnight, P, McKnight, K, Arfstrom, K.M 2013, A Review of Flipped Learning, Flipped Learning Network, retrieved May 15 2015, < cms/lib07/VA01923112/Centricity/Domain/41/LitReview_FlippedLearning.pdf>

Friday Standups

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I wanted to create greater student accountability around their learning and also give students the opportunity to present their learning and discuss where they are going.  I got the idea from collaborating with a UX designer in London with my class. With her team every Friday they meet and discuss what they are working on, seek feedback and discuss where they are going. Out of this the #FridayStandups was born. Each Friday students have a few minutes to present their learning around these questions.

Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 11.07.38 amIt has kept them accountable and gives them the opportunity to share their learning and receive feedback if needed. We have been using flipgrid to curate their responses also. It has been valuable for students to have a target each week and be able to share what they are doing. It values their learning and their peers are participating in active and passive ways. It has been great in modelling different ways to tackle their learning problem. Many divergent thinking opportunities and new ideas have come out of these short presentations. It is framed with the idea of making students owners of learning and providing opportunities for them to reflect and make learning more visible.

Why you should use past students as experts 

I have been lucky enough to work in many collaborative environments, where experts were readily available to shape my learning and provide inspiration which challenged my thinking. This is something that I have been keen to continue with my students. With point to point technology it is relatively easy to invite an expert into your class. Skype, FaceTime or even conversations over Twitter allow students to have quality discussions with experts from around the world. You would be surprised how willing people are to help your students. You never know, just ask. 

Why I invite past students or experts in their field to collaborate.

Steven Pinker an American experimental psychologist and cognitive scientist, highlights the idea of the curse of knowledge. Reading the work of Pinker he explains this as the inability to imagine what it is like for someone else not knowing something they do. If you think about, how many times have you explained a concept only to have vacant expressions on your students faces. Students are so much more likely to learn from each other or a slightly older expert who can remember how difficult it was to learn that concept. The issue for us is that we learnt it so long ago it’s hard to conceptualise our students not ‘getting it’.  Students or experts that recently learnt the idea are much more likely to explain the concept in a way that their peer will understand. The collaborative nature of this learning is fabulous, not only are students connecting and learning how to interact with others online they are also learning valuable ways of drilling into their learning challenge. It’s a powerful way for sudents to listen to stories from an expert on how they came to an idea or what challenged their learning. From my experience they are treated a little like rock stars from my students, look they made it! They genuinely engage with high quality questions that help them move their learning forward. Usually this is just the first conversation from point to point technology to face to face feedback in class, it all counts in making meaningful connections beyond the walls of the classroom. The feedback is excellent and develops a strong collaborative classroom environment. Students feel comfortable sharing their ideas, concerns and failures knowing that the expert brings a wealth of understanding which will help shape new directions.

Year 9 design students receiving critical 1:1 feedback on their final designs from RMIT University Communication Design student  via Skype.  Students sent in their final designs for feedback and had a 10 minute conversation around their work. The students then had the opportunity to act on the feedback from the expert and re-submit their final design.

Here is a reflection from a Yr 9 student regarding the process with an expert.

The feedback I received was beneficial in many ways. It gave me a fresh eyes opinion on my final product, without the person knowing the process I used to create it. It gave me several ways in which I could further improve my work, such as sending me different fonts to use that would improve my hierarchy, adding curvature to select text sections to combine different parts of my work, and work with individual colours to adapt the style of my work. As well as this, it gave me feedback on what I had done well as reassurance and positive enforcement on what I could do again. I enjoyed receiving a different honest perspective on my work and I hope that in future design tasks I can partake in a similar system.

As a teacher it is important to keep our connections with past students, they become experts following their passions and can help us push our current students learning forward.

It’s also worth noting that there are loads of ways to connect with older professionals from around the world. Skype in the classroom has many ways to connect with global projects, professionals and teachers. I would also suggest directly contacting your expert. Twitter is a great one, start a hashtag or connect to the expert online and get students to ask questions. There are a multitude of ways to connect with people around the globe.  Happy connecting!