A techie’s view

Another excellent Edublogs.org weblog

Putting my neck on the block

27 July 2012 by · No Comments · Uncategorized


I have had cause recently to work with something called a Unit of Competency, specifically ICAA5154B (Model data processes). For those of you unfamiliar with the framework from which this comes, this is under the auspices of Innovation & Business Skills Australia (IBSA), a body charged with ensuring that every Unit of Competency is both up to date and reflects the current needs of Australian industry.

Issues of Relevance and of Currency

That Unit of Competency requires that learners be skilled in both Oikos and SOCCA. There are two issues with this. Firstly, both Oikos and SOCCA are areas of knowledge; more specifically, they are research projects, not skills. Secondly, both projects were current in 1995, but both have long since vanished from practical usage.

The Teacher’s Dilemma

Any conscientious teacher follows the requirements of the Unit of Competency in its entirety. We now have teachers with a conundrum: are they honest to the Unit of Competency, or do they do the right thing by their students? Individual teachers are likely to take different views on this point. (In my own case, there was a requirement as late as 2009 for learners to be able to format a floppy disk, a skill that became irrelevant several years earlier. My solution was to get them to do it once, and thereby deem them competent, knowing full well that they will never need to do it again.)

A Way Forward

I took this matter up with IBSA, and received a very positive response, giving both advice to teachers (both “Oikos and SOCCA” should be ignored), and saying that the Unit of Competency was due for review, and inviting me to become part of that review process. This demonstrated IBSA’s commitment to serving industry’s needs.

Next Steps

My own practices in Information Technology only make use of some of the bits and pieces in that Unit of Competency. As such, I can contribute directly to the updating of those bits and pieces. However, this raises the question of how I might contribute to the other areas in the Unit of Competency. How do I find out what other practitioners are doing in my industry area? How do I keep myself up to date? Two answers suggest themselves: read industry news (which I do occasionally anyway), and see what vendors are offering (a new task for me).

Watch this space!

Wow! Just WOW!

22 April 2012 by · 7 Comments · Uncategorized

My Thanks To …

My thanks go to Brad, Caitlin, Erika, Ethan, Jayden, Jordan, Jo and Micky for contributing so much to the Extraordinary Learning For A Digital Age (ELFADA) project.

Some Background

This project is two runs of an intensive course lasting four weeks. It is funded through the National VET E-Learning Strategy (NVELS). The project’s driving force (Jo) has written a detailed post about it.

The project is an adjunct to the Certificate in General Education for Adults (CGEA) course. Student achievements in the project are carried forward to their CGEA work. One of the central aims of the project was to encourage students to develop a habit of studying, and to be able to use this effectively during their CGEA work.

The first run of the project succeeded beyond all expectation.

“How Come?”

The Mechanics

Before explaining why the project so far has been so successful, it is worthwhile looking at the mechanics.

Each day’s work was structured around three sessions:

  • 09:00 to 11:00, where lecturers present material
  • 11:00 to 14:30, where students could work, and there was always a lecturer available to answer questions
  • 14:30 to 15:00, to round off the day, and answer any outstanding questions

All contact with the students was virtual: there was no face-to-face contact.

What Happened

The use of a virtual environment freed students from having to be in a certain place at a certain time. One of the students had to miss parts of some sessions due to prior variable commitments. Another student was traveling as a passenger in a car during one of the sessions. The need to be inside any particular pile of bricks became void.

Students also worked to their own schedules. They performed research, undertook individual creative work, sent the lecturers e-mails, and posted on their blogs at times that suited them. In return, they understood that the lecturers would always be available during the stated hours, and that, provided it suited the lecturers’ own schedules, the lecturers would provide feedback outside those stated hours. It is a complete break from the factory model of learning.

Readers could be forgiven for thinking that the social sense was one of nine isolated individuals with very little in the way of an esprit de corps. In fact, quite the opposite happened. Despite the separation in space, there was a very powerful sense of social bonding between everybody who participated.

A Vision for the Future

What I have seen here is a radical experiment that successfully challenges the notion that “the [physical] classroom” is the only way to achieve educational success. It is a way forward for people who are physically isolated, and for whom the strictures of Monday-to-Friday 09:00-15:30 are unacceptable.

I look forward to seen this model being developed and used to great benefit in the future.

The Teacher, the Student, and the iPad

16 March 2012 by · No Comments · Uncategorized

A Question

There is a discussion that seems to be becoming increasingly common among educators along the lines of “How can we make best use of e-technology [to assist with teaching and learning]?”.

The Good

It is worthwhile looking at the work of Eric Scheninger (Twitter: @NMHS_Principal, web site http://ericsheninger.com/esheninger/home) whose primary focus is on achieving effective communication with the learners, with a subsidiary focus of using e-technology to achieve that communication.

The Bad

More locally, I have been in face-to-face discussions with other educators who have puzzled over how to use the functionality of a particular e-device as an aid to teaching, learning and assessment. Fairly recently, I overheard a despairing “What devices will the students be using next semester?” – this with the idea that if the answer was known, it would then be possible to devise suitable delivery materials.

Even worse, there is view that “Because we are using e-mail [alone!] with the students, we are therefor using e-technology very effectively.”.

The Ugly

The reason is that this is bad is that it puts the focus of attention on the wrong component of the system. It flows from teachers who wish to nail down the e-technology before they start thinking of how to use it. It misses completely the reality that the technology at the start of the school year may bear very little resemblance to the technology at the end of the school year: new devices are coming out all the time, and many of today’s learning are buying and using them. Any approach that relies on knowing in advance what devices will be used later in the course is always sub-optimal, and may be very bad for the students.

We need instead to consider how we connect with and communicate with students. To list a few off the top of my head, these could include:

  • Their Personal Learning Networks
  • Web 2.0 technologies
  • Synchronous/asynchronous methods
  • Campus/mobile

We then need to be ready to exploit whatever technologies are at hand – typically in the students’ hands, of course – to achieve that communication. As teachers, we need to be prepared to accept (at least) and exploit (much better) whatever devices and patterns of use that our students present to us. The excuse that “It is a new device, I don’t [want to] know how to use it.” simply will not do!

Teachers these days have access to an enormous range of ways of finding answers:

  • They should have and exploit their own PLNs. (“You haven’t got one? Why not?”)
  • There are search engines available, not limited to just Google, Ask and Wolfram Alpha, but also including the “search” box included on many web sites
  • Ask the other students
  • Go to the manufacturer’s web site
  • And as a final resort, “Read The Beautiful Manual!”.

If teachers are not modelling these behaviours themselves, how can be expect our students to function effectively in the coming decades?

In Conclusion

Teachers often talk about teaching students about “learning how to learn”. I can now say “Physician, heal thyself!”. Unless we ourselves learn how to learn to use these new devices, we are failing in our duties to future generations.

Old teachers, new technology

22 February 2012 by · 4 Comments · Uncategorized

My Thanks To …

My thanks go to Santtu Toivonen (Twitter: @touqo) for prompting this post.

Santtu tweeted “Any evidence or studies that the younger generation of teachers is more willing to adapt their teaching to fit new technologies? #edchat” which generated a fairly long exchange of tweets between him and me exploring a number of ideas, this helping me to clarify my own thoughts.

Initial Remarks

I will assume that all readers are familiar with the phenomenon that the ability to learn decreases with age. I will not explore this point further.

I will however mention an owner of a training organisation, in her 70s, who understands new technology very rapidly, and a lecturer in his mid-30s for whom using technology is somewhat difficult.

What I Learned

As a teacher, I will use the technology that is available, best suited to the learners’ needs, and which I feel I can use effectively. At one extreme, this could be two rocks to sit on, a stretch of sand between them, and a stick to draw with. (Who knows, I may well do this one day.) At the other extreme, it could be a mobile device that became available to the public earlier that day. I am fortunate: because of my own background in Information Technology, I find new technology particularly easy to use. To give a comparable example from the automotive industry, I would like to think that when gas-powered cars first became widespread, teachers would be very comfortable with the changes in the engine.

Different people have different aptitudes for different things: some find information technology very easy, while others can find it impenetrable. Again by way of offering two extremes, I realised that I had left my teacher behind when it came to learning how to program a computer about half-way through the course – this was back in 1970. At the other extreme, I still meet local teenagers who dread such classes – this could be due in part to the teacher, but having worked briefly with such teenagers they seem to lack the aptitude for the subject. This manifests itself in an inability to follow a set of steps in the order given, for example.

Da Capo

Looking into my crystal ball, I see more changes in degree over the next decade, rather than any changes in kind. The rapid transition from mobile phones to smart phones is a change in kind, but adding more power to smart phones is merely a change in degree: the crest of the Information Revolution is now behind us.

My guess is that tomorrow’s teachers will use the technologies with which they feel comfortable, and they will tend towards those subjects for which they have an aptitude.

Pictures and presentations: an issue of size

20 February 2012 by · 1 Comment · Uncategorized

Reflections on an Edublogs/Collaborate Session

It was my pleasure to co-moderate a serendipity session where one of the topics was the large size of some PowerPoint files, and what to do about it. Jo Hart’s thoughts on the same Edublogs/Collaborate session are at http://johart1.edublogs.org/2012/02/20/edublogs-serendipity-webinar-overview-four-topics/.

I was moved by the difficulties of one of the participants to write a Google document about how this issue could be managed. It is a public document, with readers invited to add their comments for improvement, or they can send them to me via an e-mail link embedded within it. I have so had two very valuable contributions from readers; they are credited in the document. (For the sake of security, I am the only one able to edit it.)

I first came across Google documents years ago, but I had no cause at the time to use them. It was not until relatively recently that I started using Google documents, creating them as and when needed for some or other purpose, whether it be education (as in the example above) or business. I felt immediately at home when I first started using Google documents.

Time Management – An Alternative Viewpoint

17 December 2011 by · 1 Comment · Uncategorized

My Thanks To …

My thanks go to Sweetie Berry (Twitter: @SweetieBerry, web page http://www.sweetieberry.com) for prompting this post. She shared with me a link to a web site which is (in her own words) “geared to help ADD high abilitied people (all ages) learn to use 7 minutes at a time to prioritize time to organize how they are effective in their plans of action, choices.”: http://www.the7Minutelife.com. This fired my grey cell into thinking about the whole issue of time management, which I find to be a somewhat peculiar phrase.

First, Some Groundwork

Before developing an argument, I need to lay some foundations from which I will be arguing.

Time is Finite

Whatever the time management experts say, we all have exactly 86,400 seconds available to us every day. Time is incompressible.

Of Goals and Tasks

We all have goals. Some goals are minor, such as having clean teeth after a meal, while others can be major, such as completing a research project. We achieve those goals by undertaking and completing tasks, such as using a toothbrush or writing research papers.

Continuous Choices

I now raise an idea that seems to be much neglected: the notion of “continuous choice”. This may need some explanation. By continuing to read this item, your are making a choice to keep reading: this is a choice that you keep making for as long continue to read. There any number of things that might change that continuous choice, such as

  • You reach the end of the item
  • Your telephone rings
  • You have a sudden and great urge to visit the bathroom
  • The device that you are using to read this item runs out of power

The same idea applies to driving a car on a long journey: anything could happen to change your mind to keep driving, including

  • Desire for a coffee break
  • Having a flat tyre
  • Needing to refuel your vehicle

These are decisions that you take continuously, and largely unconsciously, but they nevertheless control your actions on a moment-by-moment basis as you respond to the varying priorities of your own consciousness.

Da Capo

What we have here is an issue of task management, where we change the task of the moment to meet different goals. Whether or not we decide to switch between tasks is a function of the relative priorities of the goals at any given moment (“continuous choice”). The phrase “time management” is something of a smoke screen, merely reflecting the amount of time that we allocate to any given task, while obscuring the issue of goal prioritisation.

My Own Daily Goals

There used to be days when I remembered in the evening that I had forgotten to do something important that day. It might be to call a client, or pay a bill. To overcome this, it is now my habit to write a “to do” list at breakfast time, when my mind is usually least cluttered. It usually fits comfortably on a small “Post-it” note, measuring about 75mm square. I then refer to it throughout the day, and somethings think, “Woops, I’m glad I wrote that down.”.

“You Are REQUIRED to Attend this Time Management Course”

We now come to the classic case where time management is seen by some management teams as a “universal panacea”: they perceive more effective time management as a means of squeezing yet more work out of staff who are already fully committed to the business. At best, this is simply an exercise in futility. At worst, this can be a very effective means of demotivating everybody.

In Conclusion

Perhaps it is time to start thinking in terms of goal prioritisation and task management.

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My First Cyberbully

17 August 2011 by · 6 Comments · Uncategorized

Opening Remarks

This has been a slightly troublesome post to write, as befits the slightly troubling experience which it reports. The motive for writing this post is to illustrate a perhaps subtle approach employed by a bully.

For the sake both of protecting identities and of brevity of language, I refer to the other person concerned as “Mr Ully”. Mr Ully was the first tweeple in the slightly over 2,000 that I follow who behaved like this.

The Lead In

I was using Twitter, and had just made the acquaintance of Mr Ully, and I was going through the usual sort of exchanges that you do when engaging with somebody new. The conversation then turned to the matter of education. Soon afterwards, Mr Ully came out with this little gem:clip 1which I found somewhat confronting. It was a harbinger of what was to come.

It was a classic example of first befriending someone, and seeking to impose your own world view on them.
I have included the exchange in the panel on the right in case any reader wishes to study the exchange in detail.
Mr Ully was working very hard at undermining my confidence in my mastery of English, and seeking to impose his own understanding on me, this prompting me to tweet “has just blocked a tweeple who tried to bully me into accepting that a specialist word in my area of trade does not exist.”.
This produced this wonderful response from James Greenwood (web site: http://www.james-greenwood.com/, twitter @jpgreenwood) “@philhart Wouldn’t lose much sleep over it… you were perfectly coherent.”.
As I am a mature individual, Mr Ully’s efforts got nowhere. I also found James Greenwood’s tweet to be heartwarming.

Think of the Children

I now come to the main point of this post. Some young people may lack the developmental maturity to recognise such a form of bullying and to deal with it accordingly. This is something that I will now be very much more conscious of in the future.
<end of post>

The exchange


I Want to Learn About …

8 August 2011 by · 4 Comments · Uncategorized

A Goad

I have a small confession to make. It is this: I am thoroughly dissatisfied with the quality of educational resources on the Internet. I say this both as a learner and as an educator. But before I go on too much more with this rant, I had better define what I mean by the role of a “learner”.

What Is a Learner?

For the purposes of this post, I will define a “learner” as somebody who has a question to which they want an answer. The question can be mundane, or abstruse, or anything in between.

A mundane question could be “When is the next bus to the middle of town due to leave from here?’. A more abstruse question could be “What are good mathematical tools for modelling three dimensional surfaces, and why are some other approaches impractical?”. If you don’t happen to understand the second question, that doesn’t matter: it merely serves to illustrate the abstruseness of the question.

The first question can be answered using Web 1.0 technology, typically by going to the web site of your local bus operator. Getting answers to questions of the second type sometimes leaves me tearing my hair out.


I have yet to find an educator who is completely happy with all the existing online educational resources that are available to help them deliver a particular course. I hear instead a cacophony of complaint: “I do not have time to prepare resources to what I would regard as the miminum acceptable standard for my students (and there is nothing suitable that I can find on the Internet).”.

Using my question about modelling three dimensional surfaces as a starting point, I was initially confronted by a mass of seemingly unrelated facts: the linkages between them took a lot of figuring out. To make matters worse, different authors used different definitions for the same thing: it was only after thinking quite a lot about what these people were saying that I finally understood what was going on. A lot of time and frustration would have been saved if I had found a comprehensive online text on this subject; from what I can find, no such text exists, and I do not have the time to write such as text gratis. (I hear mutterings of “information curation” coming from readers of this post: I will return to this shortly.) I have had similar issues in another area of applied mathematics, as well as in other areas of human endeavour. You may have had similar experiences yourself.

I had heard about Web 3.0 (or “the Semantic Web”) with its promise of linking together pieces of information, so I poked around in this area. I found a motley collection of tools which, while I am sure that they are very good at doing what they each set out to do, between them offer nothing in the way of joining up the bits of information needed to answer my 3D question, and what is more to do it in such a way as to present all the information in a digestible order.

Just to make matters a little more exciting, we have Sir Ken Robinson’s prospect of individualised learning (as opposed the factory model of teaching), this aided and abetted by learners’ love affair with mobile devices.


I will take it for granted that today’s learner expect to be able to ask a question, and to receive a comprehensive, well-informed and lucid reply in response regardless of the nature of the question that they asked. So …

  1. What will it take to reach that position?
  2. Who will be involved?
  3. How long will it take?
  4. Who will manage the process? (Educators? Corporations? Specialists? Individuals? Other?)
  5. Will knowledge curation require subject specialists, or could it be automated? If so, to what extent?

If you feel inclined to respond to any of these questions, I, and perhaps future learners, will be very grateful to you.

The #rscon3 Unconference

5 August 2011 by · 3 Comments · Uncategorized

Random Jottings

This post is my last in connection with the recent Reform Symposium conference. It is in a sense an unconference piece: it is a reflection on some of the activity that has followed the conference itself.

There has been a lot of blog posting both by participants and presenters, with comments being made on those posts being made by many. It is an opportunity for people to come down from the highs of the conference – an opportunity to reflect on went well, and to ponder what might be done better next time – both forms of personal development.

I have also seen a lot of activity on Twitter, where everybody is exchanging ideas. This is another virtual venue for unconference activity: people are choosing parts of Web 2.0 space that best suits themselves.

The organizers’ suggestion of telling them about blog posts was brilliant.

In summary, this virtual conference has all the characteristics of a conference in a physical venue.

Assessing Assessment: a Panelist’s View

3 August 2011 by · 2 Comments · Uncategorized


This post is a personal reflection on my experience as a member of a panel fielding questions from the participants on the topic of “Assessing Assessments” at the recent Reform Symposium virtual conference, #rscon3. Readers wanting to view the recording can find it by following this link .

On Being a Panelist

I had presented another session at #rscon3 earlier that day, and felt that my presentation had been workmanlike: some of the participants had gained something from it. But being a member of a panel meant that I had to move up a gear: I did not have the luxury of having a pre-prepared presentation to work from.

The panel members covered a broad range of subject areas, from languages to technology, with a similarly broad range of students from youth-at-risk to university entrants. What soon became apparent from the panelists’ responses was the unanimity of view on the points that they addressed in common. Each panelist also offered views on other points, thereby broadening the discussion.

Three of the panel members I have not met face-to-face, and I had only the occasional exchanges with them via Web 2.0. What soon became apparent to me as a panelist was the sense of teamwork that developed very rapidly between the panel members. I found this both comforting and wonderful. It was also a completely new experience for me, both in terms being a panel member, and in terms of the remarkable bonds that can develop through the medium of Web 2.0.

I listened to the recording of that session as I was planning this post. I found that my answers were delivered in a rather fragmented fashion as I was busily organising my thoughts around the questions of the moment. It was only when I was addressing points that I had previously thought through that my speaking became unbroken. How this came across to the participants I must leave to your imaginations.


The participants were very busy in the text chat, and appeared to engage well with the session as a whole. From a personal viewpoint, I found the session to be an exhilarating experience. “Thanks for the ride!”