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You Better Start Swimmin’ or You’ll Sink Like a Stone 4 September, 2009

Posted by paralleldivergence in education, ICT in Education, Internet, Life, My Thoughts, Politics, technology.
Tags: , , , , ,

Today I “attended” an educational technologies conference. Well sort of. I wasn’t there, but then again, I was. IWBnet’s “Leading a Digital School” conference was on at the Gold Coast in sunny Queensland and while I was unable to be a delegate at the venue, I had the next best thing. Many of the delegates who were there, were happy to instantly share their experience with the rest of the world via Twitter.

Relive the IWBnet Conference via Visible Tweets

Through wireless connections using notebooks, netbooks, iPhones and iPod Touches, educators retold quotes, shared links to resources and commented on what they were seeing and hearing – in real-time.  And these contributions are captured forever, through the consistent use of hash-tags (#iwbnet09) on each of their posts. The above Visible Tweets link will let you relive some of the  conference experience as well as gather numerous pearls delivered to you via links. This Twitter “back-channeling” virtually places you in a seat beside the other attendees. By tapping into a back-channel, you even have a voice. You can join into the discussion by using the same hash-tag; asking questions, commenting and responding.

How is this all done? Surely these conference attendees and those participating in the back-channels are our teaching-elite? No ordinary teacher could do this stuff. Why would you want to anyway? As Marc Prensky said in his keynote today, which was paraphrased and tweeted by Chris Betcher then turned into a pair of cartoons by my son:



We have a massive gulf in the mindsets of today’s educator and learner. As teachers, we have a challenge of monumental proportions facing us. The “teacher” MUST become the “expert learner”. Or else, the situation tweeted by Matthew Wells will become reality, where the students will be saying, “stop interrupting my learning with your teaching!”.

When a young Robert Zimmerman wrote about “mothers and fathers” way back in 1964, little did he know he was perfectly describing early-21st Century Teachers:

Your old road is
Rapidly agin’.
Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’.

Lately, we keep hearing the term “tipping point“, but it always seems to be about oil and climate change. We never seem to equate it to education. I believe we are getting very close to a tipping-point in teaching and learning as major political programs like the Digital Education Revolution start to take root. As information and communications technologies continue to become prevalent in our schools, our students will expect them to be used.

It really isn’t as hard as many teachers think to change direction, but individuals must make that step themselves. Don’t focus on the complexity of technology, focus on change. Learn how to learn. If you’re waiting for training, you’re already a lost cause.

With time quickly running out, it will be up to each and every teacher to make an important decision. Do you want to be relics, or relevant?




1. June D - 4 September, 2009

Firstly, I love the two cartoons. As I was reading the first, I was nodding my head. Why is it that teachers generally seem to believe that when it comes to learning about computers, it’s only possible through formal training? It’s especially confounding when you see the flip-side with the students and their ability to self-learn with just-in-time learning. Why can’t we seem to do that?

The rest of your article is fascinating. I’ve always dismissed Twitter as mindless babble and never understood the attraction, but your link to the Visible Tweets from this conference really cemented in my mind that I need to get onto Twitter right away. If I need help, I’ll be calling, OK? 🙂

2. paralleldivergence - 4 September, 2009

Thanks June, and yes, Of course I’ll help. Feel free to follow me: http://twitter.com/stuhasic – as for other teachers? Every teacher needs to take responsibility for their own learning. Until they realise that, nothing will change.

3. kelrob6 - 4 September, 2009

Those cartoons have got me thinking again about the application of technology in various fields. In many fields the application of technology is highly specialised. A specific piece of equipment for a specific purpose; to monitor a heart, tune an engine, help land a plane and so on. In education the use of technology is much broader, we have this wonderful evolving thing to explore, learn in, play in and help shape. For those of us with an interest in this area it is very exciting but for those without that interest, those who don’t generally use their computers at home, it is totally alien. A lot of educators who really need to be reading posts like these don’t go anywhere near a computer at home, they’re not even close to thinking about a PLN, it’s a chore to go online once a week to keep in touch with relies overseas. They show me printouts of funny emails.

Thinking about this always takes me back to thinking about specialised use of technology – the experts in those fields are not necessarily blogging about it. They might just be very good at using their particular tool to do their job and they don’t twitter about it. For them it is also a chore to login at home. I always find myself going back to thinking about the medical profession, they’re highly trained and use specialised equipment. Equipment they’re not allowed to use until they’re trained. I bet we could teach ourselves to use that equipment but our evaluation of the results would be questioned.

For me the puzzle is how to raise interest, I see lots of teachers who are interested but don’t know where to begin. For them it is a simple matter of a few directions, some patience and time. Give them a ball and watch them kick goals. For the rest, the ones standing open mouthed in front of a class with an interactive whiteboard seeing what can be done and sitting pouting in professional development sessions, them, I have no idea what to do with.

4. Tony - 5 September, 2009

Great article! You just gained a follower on Twitter. As someone who does technology professional development for teachers, I can relate to this article 100%.

The most frustrating thing for me is when teachers use the same excuses their students try to use: “I’m not a techie…I don’t need to know how to use a computer.” Those excuses sound an awful lot like “I’m not a math person. I don’t need to know how to do math.” We don’t accept those excuses from the students, so why should we accept them from the teachers?

Where is the self discovery? Where is the search for knowledge? Why is there an insistence on step-by-step guides in order to “learn” something new?

Some days I feel like responding to most tech questions with a link: http://lmgtfy.com/

5. paralleldivergence - 5 September, 2009

@Tony – You’re right. At what age do teachers lose their sense of adventure? When does it suddenly become scary to learn something new? “Let Me Google That For You” is great. I often use it when I get a stupid question from someone. Why should they get their answers given to them? Why is it so hard to research? Have decades of answers in the back of the text book and teacher’s guides made teachers stupid? Is their world really that narrow? Thanks for the Twitter follow. Right back at ya!

@kelrob6 – While it is an individual teacher’s responsibility to want to make that first step, it is the school executive and existing ed-tech teachers’ responsibility to help them along the way. But we can’t hand-hold all of them and we can click the mouse for them. They must make a significant effort. As I said in another post here – Lifelong Learning is not a 9 to 5 activity.

6. Sharon - 5 September, 2009

Some teachers will not even go to any training. So the first cartoon does not even relate to them. Our school is doing simple training on OneNote. Many teachers have attended these sessions but other have not.

Most students will try and find things for themselves but many students at my school want to be shown/ taught how to do things on a computer. The first tool I teach them is how to use help. I tell them I am no expert and if I want to learn something then I use help. This is helping them get more out of applications then I do. I only ever know the basics to get started and let students go further than me.

Hopefully I will be relevant rather than a relic. But I am a relic in some ways as I know the orginal terms for things and how and why they relate which does make it easier to use help.

7. Barbara Schaffer - 5 September, 2009

Great article … but sure you don’t really think there is an age at which sense of adventure is lost …. there are some who never have it and some who never lose it. I think curiousity ,creativity ,imagination and the willingness to take risks are the qualities which drive us to go wondering, learning, and “playing around” . Kids learn new things quickly because they know how to “have a play” When I am investigating a new piece of technology I see it as play . Mnay of us who are getting a bit shall we say “long in the tooth” can still get excited by some new toys .

8. Barbara Schaffer - 5 September, 2009

Sorry, too many typos and too late to fix them.

9. Brad McAllister - 6 September, 2009

I think it is very dangerous to think that all student’s are self motivated and will thrive if we simply open up our wireless networks and teachers ‘get out of their way’. The reality is that students have motivations that are often very different to what we hope they may be.

Here is my catch. Teachers have generally proven themselves to be capable learners or else they would not qualify for the roles they hold. If they struggle to harness modern technologies for their learning needs then why do we think all of our students will be capable? The ‘digital natives’ title does not hold up for me in terms of learning. Most (some??) young people are confident and capable in using digital technologies but this does not mean they are capable of using these as a means to achieve all of their learning needs.

Students will undoubtedly learn in digital environments left to their own devices, but little more than if you threw them into the wilderness and left them to their own devices ( and I would argue the wilderness could provide some powerful lessons digital means could not hope to provide).

I don’t think technology will be the key to remaining relevant. I think the further down the track you look that human interaction will be more highly valued than digital interaction.

This is not to say that digital means do not have a place, just that it is not the be all and end all to remaining relevant to students. I can say without a doubt that the most powerful teaching moments (life moments) I have been involved in have been human contact moments and I don’t think an ‘over the web’ type experience could rival these moments.

I also think the generalisation about teacher and student learning is quite dangerous. I don’t think teachers all expect to be trained to learn anything new and I don’t think all students are capable of shaping their own learning path with teachers simply butting out and opening up the web to them.

Teaching is a complex game and the demands of teaching are significant. At this point in time I think teachers are quite entitled to be critical of new pedagogies which have limited research based evidence to prove their effectiveness. I would be more concerned about teachers who blindly run towards any new approaches without questioning them.

I don’t think technology is the key factor. Learning is the ‘game’ and technology no doubt can play a key role, but to assume that teaching and learning cannot be relevant without technology seems very narrow focused to me.

Playing devils advocate here – I don’t see enough of it!!

10. paralleldivergence - 6 September, 2009

@Sharon – It’s great that you are helping your teachers. Here’s a good article with 10 steps to assist: http://edtechpower.blogspot.com/2009/09/10-tips-for-teaching-technology-to.html

@Barbara – I don’t think there is a specific age, but I’m sure every teacher once had a sense of adventure, a yearning to discover new things and to challenge their fears. Sadly, for many, these attributes have long gone and we need to find a way to get them back. The thing is, I don’t think they even realise they lost those characteristics. I’m hoping to point that out. 🙂

@Brad – Thanks for balancing out the argument a little. I fully realise that for the vast majority, their ICT skills and understanding are surface-level only. It’s clear by all the stupid things they seem to do with ICTs without considering the consequences. But they don’t have that fear and hesitation that their teachers have, and they are happy to ask for and accept support from their peers – something teachers don’t seem to readily do. They’d much rather keep on working as the islands that they have become over decades of working in a classroom.

I’ve always said that “Interactive technologies” are all about connecting humans THROUGH technology. It’s not about the technology at all – it’s about the connection. ICTs just make those connections more timely, interesting and effective.

At least we’re starting to talk about it. 🙂

11. craig snudden - 6 September, 2009

Great article Stu! Unfortunately, those who need to read it most never will or if they are made too during say a staff meeting, would reply with the usual ‘I haven’t got time for that….’
Some staff ask me ‘How do you know so much about computers?’ To be perfectly honest, I feel i know very little. I have had no formal training and when i left uni, there was this new thing that people were talking about called ’email’. That was only about 14 years ago. The year 5 students i now teach, were not even born, however 75% now email their homework to me, blog, use a wiki, use facebook, bebo etc. When i went to school, the words ‘internet, email, blog, wiki, facebook etc’ didn’t even exist!
So how do i swim? Social networks.
Sites such as Twitter and the Sydney Region ICT forum, allow me to ask questions and learn from others who are so brilliant in the ICT field. They then share this knowledge with educators such as myself and who in turn benefits? The students!
Educators who are only using computers for word processing and data storage are sinking fast.
Other professions keep up with change without the ‘Train me’ attitude, yet teachers want to be recognised as ‘Professionals’
I’ve often considered teaching technology like a raging river. You can stand on the bank and watch everything sweep by and be left behind or you can jump in and be swept on a learning adventure that will never end.
So the difficult question is ‘how to get those sinking or standing on the bank to engage in their own professional learning?’ I have tried and i am not sure if they are afraid or they just don’t care.
Thanks again for a great article and special thanks to your son for the cartoons.

12. darcymoore - 6 September, 2009


You probably know this by now but the closing plenary of the conference took a few moments to focus on your post and it was flashed up on the screen.

Good stuff!

paralleldivergence - 6 September, 2009

Thanks for sharing this Darcy, I wasn’t aware. Hopefully the attendees saw some great evidence of the power of their back-channeling and how it’s come back to them. 🙂

It’s a great advertisement to show the power of Personal (Professional) Learning Networks and why every teacher needs to get theirs going.

13. Barbara Schaffer - 6 September, 2009

Thanks for some challenging ideas Stu and others, I have pondering the questions raised in your blog intermittently throughout the day.
Brad , you raise some interesting concerns but,what do you mean when you say teachers have proven themselves to be “capable learners” ? I only wish that this were true ! So many teachers see themselves as ‘experts’ in a particular discipline and are unable to see the connections between different curriculum areas or to bring content to life by putting it into relevant and engaging contexts.

Technology provides tools whereby we can deliver curriculum in richer more engaging ways. But, much more importantly the use of technology makes possible new ways of developing, sharing and critiquing ideas …it opens up possibilities for new kinds of teacher/student, class/teacher and class/ world relationships that are more dynamic and powerful than those which were available when we did our teacher training. As students and teachers work together to come to grips with new learning technologies, genuine learning communities can begin to take shape. And as students and teachers collaboratively author their own texts (be they websites, blogs videos, music or artworks) they gain valuable insights into the construction of knowledge and the critical relevance of author, purpose and audience in the construction of meaning.

What you say about ‘digital natives’ is true in that many young people whilst confident and capable in using digital technologies frequently use it chiefly for recreational, social and entertainment purposes. It is therefore crucial that educators help students to understand the momentous importance of digital technology in the production and exchange of knowledge. From an equity perspective, it is important that students with limited or no access to technology at home are provided with meaningful access through school. Many teachers who blog with students are reporting that online spaces provide a voice to students who are reluctant to talk in class.
A teacher can provide a vital bridge between the online digital world their students inhabit recreationally and the school curriculum. An online environment can create a space where relationships can flourish and the contributions of individuals and groups can be recognised and nurtured. The way new technology facilitates sharing is for me the most exciting aspect of the digital revolution. In my more optimistic moments, I imagine that the generation we are teaching now will become known as the “us’ generation and will develop shared values and ways of working together which will allow them to successfully take on some of the problems they will inevitably inherit.
I agree with Brad about the danger of generalisations and many years of teaching experience lead me to believe that readiness to learn, creativity and a sense of adventure have almost nothing to do with chronological age. There are some young teachers who approach new experiences with trepidation, apathy or indifference and some older teachers who take up every new challenge with enthusiasm and courage, I might add there are many students who want to be spoon fed and show no interest in directing their own learning.

Yes …teaching is a complex game and relationships are at the very heart of that game .Technology is not a passing fad, on the contrary it pivotal to almost every aspect of our cultural, economic, scientific and social life. Technology is an essential part of the way we live our lives and the way we relate to each other and the world around us and to the way knowledge is constructed and exchanged. We owe it to our students to navigate the sometimes treacherous and unmapped waters of the online world alongside them, because the times they are a changing .

Thanks again for a very thought provoking and engaging post

14. Audrey Nay - 6 September, 2009

Twitter SNIP

Twitter SNIP

The question is not so difficult it is the application that is difficult…

loved the whole experience of being “at the conference” in “kind.” (all but body)

Audrey Nay - 6 September, 2009

I might try that again…..
Craig said “So the difficult question is ‘how to get those sinking or standing on the bank to engage in their own professional learning?’ ”
Twitter post “Peter Kent tells teachers refusing to engage with Technology to resign as they are dinosaurs –
Twitter post ” Listening to Peter Kent’s pre-keynote keynote. “if you’re not prepared to integrate technology then look for another job”
The question is not so difficult…the answer is there….it’s the application that is the difficult part!!

The cartoons give us more chance to get some teachers to “consider” what they “don’t have time for!!” in a much quicker and clearer way. Well, at least to make some of them squirm a little bit!

paralleldivergence - 6 September, 2009

Thanks Audrey. I was just listening to Chris Betcher’s podcast summing up the conference by interviewing various delegates: http://virtualstaffroom.net/2009/09/06/episode-29-the-c-word/ – there was another great quote that came out of the conference from Darcy Moore:

“If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less”.


15. Audrey Nay - 7 September, 2009

• create,
• communicate,
• connect
• collaborate
or change?
MMmm…seems I better find time to listen.
Have heard that quote b4..maybe because I work in a NSW DET primary school library. or maybe it was that uni course TL as change agent…..

16. craig snudden - 9 September, 2009

Well i couldn’t agree more with Barbara “As students and teachers work together to come to grips with new learning technologies” What a powerful comment. Regardless of age, teachers and students need to work together.
While i also agree Peter Kents twitter post regarding resignation, it is definately not going to happen. Principals cannot fire staff and federation would never allow it. These teachers are in our system weather we like it or not. Some have been teaching the same way for 25 to 30 years and blatantly refuse to change or accept technology as an educational tool, for students and themselves.
I am a Primary teacher and i have seen them in all Primary schools. I cannot speak for High Schools but i am very interested to see how these ‘sinkers’ are going to cope with all of their yr 9 students sitting with laptops on waiting for engagement and as Babara said ‘work together’
Is peer tutoring for students an option to enhance learning in ICT? Students love to share their skills and knowledge with staff and their peers. Most schools participate in ‘Peer Support’ A great program that fosters friendship and social skills. It is time to have ‘ICT support’ a designated time in schools for students to share ICT skills with staff and students??? Do any schools do this? I would love to hear about it.
But as for the sinkers, they’re here to stay.

17. dskmag - 20 September, 2009

I like the Hill Top Hoods lyric “stand tall above ridiculous under-achievers and constant non-believers”. There is a fundamental problem in that bureaucrats do not equate work with learning. Already, most teachers spend +6hours a week working for free (a day), so to ask them to learn not just skills, but method (which isn’t even in Master oe Ed courses), means working even more … for free. On a school basis of 60 staff, this would be $500,000 a year at casual rates.

eLearning does not work unless projects are managed before deployment. A basic failure to engage with the PD discourse that has been here for a decade or more, will result in the well documented short falls in improvement. It seems disgusting that teachers are being asked to do this, when quite clearly, senior executives are not.

But we just have to keep saying it – and eventually social pressure will effect change.

paralleldivergence - 20 September, 2009

Thanks dskmag. We do need our Senior Executives to model the use of 21C resources and very few do – even though they are paid to lead. There are however a few doing great things, inspiring schools and principals. For example, http://hccweb2.org/ is produced and managed by a School Education Director – showing his schools what can be done with Moodle and WordPress and Sharepoint, encouraging them to jump on board and use the services he’s provided. As you say, society will expect education to change. But wouldn’t it be great if we did it off our own bat?

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