Everything is amazing, nobody is happy

Here’s something that made me smile –  the comedian, Louis CK, talks about how we take technology for granted.


As Louis CK says, ‘those were simpler times’ when we had little of the technological possibilities we have now. I think we’re all guilty of taking new technology for granted. I still remember the dial phone, and yes, the zeros took ages to come back. One of our phones had a dial that used to get stuck and you had to help it back. Bad luck if you wanted to phone in quickly to be first caller for something. There are so many things that have been developed since I was born, it’s embarrassing. My boys find it hard to believe that when I was their age there were no microwaves(at least not in my part of the world). Definitely no mobile phones. We used to think we were lucky that a friend worked for the telephone company and gave us a couple of phones so we could have them in different rooms. When I was in primary school, we were one of the first families in our circle of friends to have a remote control for the TV. Some people would say, why do you need a remote? Why can’t you just get up and change the channel? Who would say that now? I used to think that mobile phones were an unnecessary luxury, and now I have a fit if I’m out without my phone. How happy I was when I used an electric typewriter with a corrector ribbon! How frustrated I am when my webpage takes too long to load.

But, as Louis CK says, we’re quick to get frustrated with technology without giving a thought to how incredible it is. I think that’s human nature. We get used to new technologies so quickly, and we complain about what’s not working, but we don’t often extol the virtues of our machines. Are we basically negative in our perceptions and reactions?

It’s funny to read Top 30 failed technology predictions.  Some of my favourites are:

“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.” — Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp. (DEC), maker of big business mainframe computers, arguing against the PC in 1977.

“A rocket will never be able to leave the Earth’s atmosphere.” — New York Times, 1936.

“Flight by machines heavier than air is unpractical (sic) and insignificant, if not utterly impossible.” – Simon Newcomb; The Wright Brothers flew at Kittyhawk 18 months later.

“The energy produced by the breaking down of the atom is a very poor kind of thing. Anyone who expects a source of power from the transformation of these atoms is talking moonshine.” — Ernest Rutherford, shortly after splitting the atom for the first time.

“The cinema is little more than a fad. It’s canned drama. What audiences really want to see is flesh and blood on the stage.” -– Charlie Chaplin, actor, producer, director, and studio founder, 1916

“The Americans have need of the telephone, but we do not. We have plenty of messenger boys.” — Sir William Preece, Chief Engineer, British Post Office, 1878.

“Home Taping Is Killing Music” — A 1980s campaign by the BPI, claiming that people recording music off the radio onto cassette would destroy the music industry.

“Television won’t last. It’s a flash in the pan.” — Mary Somerville, pioneer of radio educational broadcasts, 1948.

Here’s a funny one:

“Rail travel at high speed is not possible because passengers, unable to breathe, would die of asphyxia.” — Dr Dionysys Larder (1793-1859), professor of Natural Philosophy and Astronomy, University College London.

It’s easy for us to laugh at these in retrospect, but what kinds of things are we saying today? I’m particularly interested in critical or sceptical things we say about technology in education. I’m hearing things like

  • we have the intranet so we don’t need to ‘go out’
  • mobile phones have no educational use and should be banned
  • computer games are a waste of time and should be banned
  • social networking, like Facebook, is a waste of time and has no educational value
  • I do all my professional reading in peer-reviewed journals; why would I want to read blogs?
  • Twitter is used by people to say superficial and unnecessary things

When we say these things we are making a major mistake, and that mistake is based on the fact that we are thinking in terms of our world, not the world of  our students, and definitely not the world of the future. Currently in education there is a significant pull away from Web 2.0 technologies. We can’t stop these things by banning them or criticizing them. We can try to understand what draws our students into these applications. What motivates them to create online games, get involved in Second Life, join Flickr groups, write blogs – become engrossed in things outside of school in a way we didn’t think was possible in school. I think that we, as educators, should seriously think about what kind of world our students will be living in once they leave school. Whatever the answer to that is, it won’t be our world.

We should be interested in what young people are doing outside of school because it may help us understand how to engage them at school.


Shift into overdrive

Sean Nash said on Twitter:

But only when my professional life hit a point where I was empowered to really innovate and create new experiences for students did I shift into overdrive in many ways.

When I was in primary school, I always hated tracing. Tracing meant laboriously following someone else’s lines, and it was was boring. Even following my own lines that I had previously drawn was boring. Soul destroying.  I feel the same about prescriptive teaching – handing out worksheets, using someone else’s lessons in parrot fashion, repeating my own lessons – boring. That’s not to say I don’t do the same lesson, I just don’t do it the same way each time.

Susan Carter Morgan said something I can relate to in her blog post:

Using another teacher’s lesson plans does not make things easier! My colleague, Susanne, had taught this course for a number of years. In her organized, inimitable fashion, she handed me (virtually) her daily plans, quizzes, projects,and tests to use. Sounds great, but we teach differently, and I can’t tell you how many times I would be halfway through a lesson, wondering why I was doing it that way and then having to re-group for the next day. Susanne is one of the best, most creative teachers I know. But I should have just created the lessons myself.

Oscar Wilde said, “Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken”.

You may not know that my husband is a Russian Orthodox priest. When we were both 26 years old, he was ordained a priest, and I was left trying on masks in order to take up my new position as ‘matushka’ (as the Russians call a priest’s wife). I felt that I was in no way suitable for this new calling , so I started to emulate some of the other matushki. Of course, I don’t have to tell you, this plan failed miserably, and I was forced to return to myself. Only then could I function sincerely and convincingly, warts and all.

The same goes for teaching. When I recently changed careers in a minor way by moving from teacher of English and LOTE to teacher librarianship, being new to the job, I lacked the confidence that years of experience bring, and considered putting on borrowed hats in order to survive job interviews. I’m talking about  manner or terminology more than anything else. That definitely didn’t work, because more than anything else, I didn’t even convince myself. Over a fairly short space of time, letting to of preconceived ideas of what a teacher librarian might be like, I’ve connected with what I see as most important for this exciting role.

Today at lunch, chatting with teachers at my school, I explained my switch in roles to teachers who didn’t know me very well. We were joking about the teacher librarians not having to mark work or write reports (me, anyway), and I wondered what they thought I did, up in the library, without the regular face-to-face with classes. I didn’t want to bore them, but I’m often left wondering how I would adequately describe the teacher librarian’s role description, because it actually is quite broad, and depending on the school, it can be open to interpretation. That’s what I love about my job. It allows me to define my own role, to some extent. Unrestrained by adherence to one or two subject areas, a teacher librarian is, in a sense, a purer educator, looking after the learning of students across the curriculum. A teacher librarian inspires connection with ideas and  people through literature, teaches information skills (so important all through school and life), and supports best pedagogy.

So, back to my opening quote from Sean. To be empowered to innovate and create new experiences for students means, for me,  connecting with my authentic self, my way of doing things, my passion, taking the relevant curriculum and running with it. To make it absorbing for me and therefore the students, it should be a new experience each time. Teachers will know that this happens automatically because the dynamics are different for each class, but it’s good to build on the experience each time and present it in a slightly different way.

Web 2.0 technologies have opened up new ways of opening up and creating new experiences for teachers. Let’s take English teaching, for example. There are many ways to ‘renew’ your lessons by looking at what others have shared online.

I’d like to share some of my favourite networks which are a constant source of inspiration to me.


OZ/NZ Educators

Classroom 2.0

Educators’ guide to innovation

English Companion

Art Education 2.0

Independent School Educators’ Network

Mexico English Teachers’ Alliance

Voicethread for Educators

iConnect iLearn in the 21st century


Images 4 Education

Flat Classrooms

Discussing Current Events


Classroom 2.0

School 2.0

Voicethread 4 Education

educational origami

21st century collaborative

Cool tools for schools

Visual Blooms

Web tools 4 U 2 use


Geography blog Mr Robbo, the PE geek

2008 Edublogs winners (best education blogs)

Darren Kuropatwa’s Maths blog

Langwitches (Silvia Tolisano)

Art teaching blog : The  teaching palette

Global Teacher Blog directory and Web 3.0 community

School Library of Victoria blog: Bright Ideas (by Judith Way)

Angela Maiers: Educational Services

Susanne Nobles’ blog (English) Virginia, US

Susan Carter Morgan

Hey Jude (Judy O’Connell, Sydney)

Jenny Luca

On an e-journey with generation Y – Anne Mirtschin

Andrew Douch

Allanah King

Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach

Will Richardson

Rhonda Powling (Web 2.0 resources)

Have a look at my Twitter network here.

Here I am on Delicious and you can see my network here.

Here I am on Diigo.

Flickr (great way to share, discover and use images)

Although long, this is only a selection.

Nobody wants to regurgitate the same lesson again and again. That’s soul-destroying. If you’re inspired by what you’re teaching, then it’s likely to be an inspiring learning experience for students. Regularly connecting with networks of people who are teaching the same subjects is like securing your roots  into fertile ground. Combine that with the excitement you feel with all these ideas and resources at your fingertips, you can’t help going into overdrive.  You don’t mind (or can’t stop yourself) working after hours, into the night, during your breaks, because there is no longer just you and your subject material, there is you connected to a limitless number of people, ideas and resources, able to discuss and question, ask for help, co-create resources – you name it. Shifting into overdrive occurs naturally. Watch yourself take off.

How have you changed as a writer because of online spaces?

On Twitter I read that Will Richardson was doing a day-long workshop on ‘How have you changed as a writer because of online spaces and communities?’

Considering the deliberate and concentrated direction ‘out’ I’ve been following in the last year, when blogging through a Web 2.0 learning process took me out of the library and into the world, I thought it would be a good idea for me to ponder this question:

‘How have you changed as a writer because of online spaces and communities?’

Well, the short and simple answer is easy: I never was a writer until I started a personal blog, and so that simple step in setting up a blog, like so many people did before me, has given me the gift of a space I can personalise with my thoughts. Over 30 years ago, when I finished secondary school, I lost my excuse for writing. Having enjoyed writing in English classes more than anything else at school, there was no reason or opportunity to do it anymore. So when I started my blog, tentatively at first, it was a joyful reunion with a process I had long missed.

And so, back to the question, ‘how have I changed as a writer because of online spaces and communities’? Blogging has not only given me the chance to write, but it has given me an audience, and it has connected me to people. When I say audience, it’s not a big one, but I’m not talking to the air either. If I have something to say or share or ask, it’s great when I get a response, a thrill when I start a conversation, and brilliant if it involves people from different parts of the world. If I’m thinking or doing the same thing as someone in another country, then the world is brought closer, the unknown seems more familiar, what was foreign becomes more friendly.

The online communities I’ve joined since – Twitter, wikis, nings, etc., have taken my writing into the interactive zone. I’ve responded, supported, elaborated, argued, bounced off others, shared people’s successes, empathised, and generally had a great time with people I didn’t know, or hardly knew, and now with whom I share a great affinity. To describe this affinity, I will just say that if I’m ever in need of anything – moral support, information, advice – then the people in my network will instantly respond.

And back to the question again – my writing has changed even in its sincerity, its authenticity; I think it has thrown off its carefully constructed facade, its attempt to impress, to sound correct, to please, to conform to the status quo. It’s become transparent and unselfconscious, playful and casual, flexible and possibly courageous.

If my writing has changed in these ways because of online spaces and networks, then it must be clear to all that it is a human, and not technological, development. It’s about me, not my technology skills. The technology has provided the medium, the connections, but it has centred on human interaction.

These are the reasons why I’m exploring and pushing Web 2.0 platforms for learning and teaching at school. Using online spaces and communities for writing will connect students to each other and to others outside the classroom. Writing will become meaningful, and learning enjoyable.

Fun and games?

Before I say anything, I’m going to ask you to watch a video of a British game show called Split or steal.


Am I alone in thinking that game shows are not all fun and games, that they contain more than a small portion of insidiousness? We like to watch people compete to win, and we may enjoy living vicariously through the contestants, imagining we were just about to win an incredible amount of money. But shows like this one seem to go beyond the harmless. But despite the fact that this game show is more like torture than fun, it’s interesting to observe our own motivations as observers. I was watching with my eyes popping out; I think my hands were on my face, perhaps in disbelief. Although I had a feeling there was going to be betrayal, I couldn’t believe that a person would actually lie so coldly, and then leave the other person so shattered. It’s an interesting study in human nature. If there was a war or state of emergency, I’d hate to have my life depend on the good will of the woman in this video. And shows like Big brother mess around with people in such a bad way, it makes you wonder how this form of psychological torture is permitted.

Does anyone else feel that way, or am I just overreacting?

Thanks to Howard Rheingold for the link to the video.

1000 Awesome Things

I haven’t written a post for 6 days. Too many things have been happening, and it would take too long to fill you all in. And besides, I’m tired.

So, for your enjoyment, I will share a fun blog, 1000 awesome things.

Here’s an example of the type of thing deemed awesome.


Or #791 Getting the armrest at the movie theatre


Or #797 Seeing a cop on the side of the road and realizing you’re going the speed limit anyway

#818 When the dentist says you have no cavities

#838 The smell of freshly cut grass

#844 Celebrities on Sesame Street

Celebrities tell you how to get, how to get to Sesame Street.

Some of the videos






There are more videos, and they’re all adorable.

Have a look through the site. There’s something for everyone. 1000 awesome things has won a 2009 Webby award.