Tag Archives: reflection

Reflecting on games and on complex systems #clmooc #make3

For this Make Cycle, we invite you to use game design to analyze, remediate, and reflect on complex systems. Last week, we noticed “the affordances and constraints that each medium offers (for and against) our purposes”. This week, let’s discuss what systems we see – and what happens when we change up the rules a bit.

Life is a complex system.

That’s why I wrote about life being a game – or not – in a previous post. I wanted to engage with people in different spaces so I shared the post on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter. And the additional space – the Google Doc. I was tempted to add a Hackpad but was interrupted by a couple of tugs on the line. How to play in different spaces almost simultaneously? And then Terry Elliott created the Hackpad for me – a response to my piece using James Carse quotes. That was an interesting approach – playing the JamesCarseGamesBot. I’m still getting my head around Hackpad and its rabbit holes. And although people didn’t end up finding it, I appreciated Terry’s time taken and the flashlight he shone on isolated sections. I wonder what it would look like if others had come in. Terry knows that potential will not always be pursued, and he opens up possibilities often despite this.

You must leave this space to see my thread of the answer. For some this will be too much to ask. So be it:

I am the Carse Infinite GameBot and will be answering these questions in random order over the next 24 hours. Some questions I will not answer. Perhaps there will be a hidden message, perhaps it will be unintelligible. Ready player one?

So I guess I’m player one.

We invite you to use game design to analyze, remediate, and reflect on complex systems. So I’m not a gamer – that is, I usually avoid games like chess (can’t play it) or any strategic games which make my brain hurt; sports games; game shows; Scrabble, Monopoly, etc. Why? I don’t know. But I LOVE word games, language games, open-ended games, creative games. If I were to analyse the complex system of life in a playful way – in a gameful way – I would make sure that there were no rules that could not continue to be written. (Was that a double negative? So then I mean that the rules should evolve and be written and rewritten by any and all players). First of all, I really do think life is a game. There is no single correct way to play but many rhizomatic possibilities. You need players, so you play with others. And playing means practice, that is, you play one way, and then you play another way. Like drawing, and drawing another version. It’s complex; you can’t do it in one drawing. You need people. It’s the game of life.

While I was thinking I didn’t want Terry’s Hackpad version of my Life is a Game rant left unplayed. Threw a few things in. If you like, take a look here. I’d love you to play.

The Google Doc is play too. Thanks to you if you came in and played a while. It’s all generosity as far as I’m concerned. People adding creative responses to your work – it’s a gift. Thank you.

pack a suitcase

take a card


swiss cheese

swiss cheese note



See what comes of play? I do like games after all. Thanks for playing.




The art of slowing down learning

Photo by Alexander Sheko

This blog post led me to a New York Times article (13 Sept. 2014) by Stephanie Rosenbloom : The art of slowing down in a museum.

There is something in this message that speaks to me about Connected Courses. Many of us have already remarked that the course is bursting and exploding with the wonderful shared information and ideas.  Mia Zamora even made sure, at the start of the course, that we acknowledged it was a guilt free zone. We were encouraged to dip in and out of things that spoke to us rather than tick off a (massive) list in a course which isn’t actually linear.

For me Connected Courses have been the most valuable and inspiring form of professional development – maybe ever. I even wished I didn’t have to sleep so I could keep learning and stay in the  conversations that were mainly happening in different timezones to mine. But at the same time I feel like a child who is overwhelmed by too much choice, and currently I’m aware that I’m running from this to that, not staying too long in case I miss out on something.

At times I feel like I’m skimming the surface; I would also like to go deeper. After all, there should be more times when I stop feverishly multi-saving to Diigo/Pinterest/Feedly and sit down to digest some things at a reflective pace.

The art of slowing down in a museum really resonated with me, and I started drawing parallels between looking at art works and reading and watching what the Connected Courses community shares.

If the average visitor spends 15 to 30 seconds in front of a work of art, according to museum researchers (as stated in the article), how does this compare with the amount of time we spend reading (and thinking about) shared blog posts or articles?  If we tweet out an article or post so quickly  that it becomes obvious we couldn’t possibly have read it properly, or at least read it deeply – and I’ve done that many times (even halfway through reading) charged by a passionate response and the desire to share – then are we being too superficial, and should we just take the time to read one thing more deeply?

Does ‘the breathless life of the Internet age conspire to make that feel normal?’ There is no doubt that our behaviour on social media is fast paced. ‘But  (as stated in the article) what’s a traveler with a long bucket list to do? Blow off the Venus de Milo to linger over a less popular lady like Diana of Versailles?’ How much breadth do we sacrifice for depth?

Professor Pawelski, who studies connections between positive psychology and the humanities, states that people who visit an art museum quickly and look at art in the same way as they might tick off a large reading list of books, see as much of art as you would if you read books by looking at their spines. He says that ‘ if you do choose to slow down — to find a piece of art that speaks to you and observe it for minutes rather than seconds — you are more likely to connect with the art, the person with whom you’re touring the galleries, maybe even yourself’.

So I’m thinking about my own behaviour in Connected Courses, and reflecting on how much I slow down for, and how deeply I’m engaging with thematic offerings. Of course, we don’t always have the luxury of unlimited time when we’re all juggling #ccourses with work and life, but it’s good to stop and reflect.

As a teacher librarian I’m like a squirrel gathering the goodies and adding to the stockpile so that I can curate best quality resources across the curriculum, or provide teachers with exactly what they want at point of need. But finding resources is only one part of my job, and I’m convinced that ‘connecting with the art’  in a way that enables me to connect with myself – metaphorically speaking – will benefit the teachers and students whose learning and teaching I support.

When Professor Pawelski asks his students to spend 20 minutes in front of a single painting,  he is confident that they will actually begin to be able to see what they’re looking at. The article also includes an interesting anecdote about Dr Julie Haizlip, a scientist and self-described left-brain thinker, who was a little skeptical about this exercise, and who confessed that she ‘had never spent 20 minutes looking at a work of art and prefers Keith Haring, Andy Warhol and Jackson Pollock to Matisse, Rousseau and Picasso’. ‘Rather than check master works off a list as if on a scavenger hunt’, the exercise aimed at finding an art work that resonated with her on a personal level.

At first nothing grabbed her attention but eventually ‘she spotted a beautiful, melancholy woman with red hair like her own. It was Toulouse-Lautrec’s painting of a prostitute, “A-Montrouge” — Rosa La Rouge.’

Source: Wikimedia

“I was trying to figure out why she had such a severe look on her face,” said Dr. Haizlip. As the minutes passed, Dr. Haizlip found herself mentally writing the woman’s story, imagining that she felt trapped and unhappy — yet determined. Over her shoulder, Toulouse-Lautrec had painted a window. “There’s an escape,” Dr. Haizlip thought. “You just have to turn around and see it.”

“I was actually projecting a lot of me and what was going on in my life at that moment into that painting,” she continued. “It ended up being a moment of self-discovery.”

Dr. Haizlip had been looking for some kind of change in her professional life but wasn’t sure what. Three months after looking at the painting, she changed her practice, accepting a different position.  She said:

“There really was a window behind me that I don’t know I would have seen had I not started looking at things differently.”

We have so many interwoven responses to the weekly themes in Connected Courses – so many wonderful perspectives, and so many engaging conversations, so many ‘aha’ moments. The value of the course is the community: the human interaction.  It really isn’t  about the content as much as the energy and elucidation which comes from connections within the cohort. It’s messy, and it’s frustrating – because we can’t capture everything or follow something to its neat conclusion – but it’s exhilarating. But if we don’t stay long enough in a post, article or webinar, if we don’t grow the personal connections, we’ll miss the meaning that is ours. Reading other’s reflections is not the same as looking for our own.

And while I secretly want to read everything (and capture it forever in my carefully crafted bookmarks and boards), I know that I need to let go of wanting the whole lot in order to focus more deeply on what speaks to me, and stay for a while, playing with others in that space.

Might you miss some other works by narrowing your focus? Perhaps. But (as Professor Pawelski put it), sometimes you get more for the price of admission by opting to see less.

Vilhelm Hammershøi - interior, young woman seen from behind (1904)

Hyper-connected learning – using Diigo to share reflections on a post reflecting on another post

Photo http://realidadestatica.tumblr.com/post/21361359191/roads

So I’ve been using Diigo for quite a few years now – especially to save and annotate what I’ve found online and want to keep, and to be able to find it again later and share it easily.

What I haven’t done very much is use the annotation tool to share with others in a group. I’ve shared things with groups but – you know how it goes, you’re in and out of groups over the years, so you’re not really a part of the group in a meaningful or ongoing sense.  I admit that I try to engage in too many things on too many platforms at the same time, and recently I’m feeling the loss of a network of people I connect with in a deep way.

Since joining Connected Courses, the excitement of finding so many interesting people thinking and writing openly in blogs and on Twitter has blown my mind a little, and I’ve spent a lot of time getting to know people in this way, saving their blogs to Feedly, following them on Twitter (#ccourses) while growing a larger network, and reading their blog posts about the why of teaching.

Today, while reading Maha Bali‘s response post, Why read this, why read that, to Mimi Ito’s post, Connected learning = abundant opportunity + terror + hard attentional choices + productive tension (brilliant title, don’t you think?), I was happily disappearing  down the rabbit holes of her hyperlinks, when I stayed a bit longer in her link to the Diigo group for #ccourses, and I had a forehead slap moment. I was reading and getting excited by what I was reading, highlighting what spoke to me, and annotating my thoughts in Diigo – to myself! D’oh! How absurd was this scenario? I was part of Connected Courses, reading the same things as the very large cohort – why wasn’t I annotating to the group?

Okay, so that’s been said and I’ve added some annotations to the group for this post. And now I wait until I feel a tug on the line I’ve thrown out, bearing in mind that most participants live in a different time zone, and the interaction may not be in real time.  But potentially, Diigo is another way to feel connected in sharing ideas about a post or article – apart from Twitter, of course.

So I’m thinking that it would be very cool if we could use Diigo for something meaningful at school. Although I’ve tried a couple of times to get teachers interested in Diigo,  and nothing came of it, I might have another go following my renewed enthusiasm. And I’d also like to use Diigo for a class of students to analyse a text in small groups. That’s the kind of peer learning we need more of.

In the meantime, I thought I’d use my highlights and annotations as a way to populate this post, to share parts of Mimi Ito’s post and my thoughts as I’m reading. So what I’ve done is opened the Diigo annotations tab in my annotated version of the post, and copied the transcript of what I’ve highlighted and commented on.  A pretty easy way to throw content into your blog post if you ask me.  I think it should make sense – if you realise that I highlighted phrases and not whole sentences, and in some cases just words.

Here it is – my highlights of Maha Bali’s post about Mimi Ito’s post. This kind of reading and annotation practice is very rich even though it might seem complicated. To give a bit of background, Maha Bali is remarking on Mimi Ito’s statement that she finds reading books easier than wading through tweets and blogs. My annotated comments are in green. There are too many highlights to include all of them, so I’ll be selective. I’m going to add some thoughts as I go and these will be in red. You would probably have to read both posts for the following to make sense.

  • that she found reading books (quickly, i assume?) easier than wading through tweets and blogs; whereas I clearly did the tweets/blogs things quite comfortably but found reading books “too much”
    • I feel the same as Maha, easier to read and respond to blog posts than read a book on my own – with nobody to talk to and no way of sharing my thoughts. Claustrophobic.comment byTania Sheko
  • Anyway, it made me reflect on why I, someone who LOVES reading by all accounts, have a strong preference for reading blogs/tweets over books/academic articles in MOOCs. There are many reasons,
    • This is something I’ve been thinking about for ages but feeling like I’ve failed in that I’ve lost the enthusiasm for reading books, or maybe don’t have the focus stamina any more. Thanks for writing this out, Maha, I might do my own blog reflection.comment byTania Sheko
  • Mimi’s point that a connected learning experience “welcomes people with different dispositions and orientations to learning”,

I love this aspect of online learning – it often reveals surprising treasures from students who are too shy to have a voice in class.

  • In terms of learning: Is the MOOC about experiencing connecting? Or about reading about it?
  • the MOOC is about reflecting on connecting,
  • My first PhD supervisor was big on encouraging me to read diverse articles not single-authored books

It’s the diversity of the ‘chaotic’ stream of shared information and ideas in Connected Courses that excites me.

  • My second supervisor (who replaced the first) was big on me reading original works by e.g. Marx, Foucault, etc.
  • I also find reading translated works really difficult and find it a better investment of my time to first read more contemporary (or at least, more education-focused) interpretations of the “greats” works, before reading the original. It helps me read it better

Thanks so much for saying this! I always feel guilty when I don’t manage to read a challenging book list. What you do is a much more productive way of managing things.

  • I do not value the book-authors more than I value the blog-authors
  • can interact with them more regularly
  • more accessible, easier to read quickly

We should revise our separation of authoritative information especially as many authors are also bloggers.

  • 2. Attention issues
  • Philosophical approach to reading
  • This is particularly funny because I keep not finding time to read the”attention literacies” part in Howard Rheingold’s Net Smart, as I get ‘distracted’ into reading different parts of it (i’ve probably read half the book already, just not in order).
  • And that’s why I voice these things in MOOCs, because I am pretty sure that courses about connection want ppl to feel they can participate.
  • So basically, I hope to engage with these readings “my way” (so not deeply with each entire book, unless it draws me in, but with parts of it)
  • hope that blog posts by other people & the hangout will fill me in second-hand (you see what I am doing here, don’t you?)
    • Very clever. I think this method wards away the guilts and also sustains engagement in the course. The alternative would be to give up and feel defeated if you couldn’t do everything.comment byTania Sheko
  • P.S. some ppl may say that w blog posts u have no guarantee of quality vs a book recommended by the facilitators. However, there are many ways to gauge a blog’s quality, incl knowing the person, seeing it retweeted often or with many comments – and it takes v little time to skim it to decide to read deeply;

I think that evaluating blog posts is an important skill, and definitely, with all the information online, some of it from experts who also publish in peer-reviewed journals, or books, that it is important to encourage students to discover what experts and professional people post online, and evaluate these as they would anything else.

  • lovely quotes from Mimi’s post:
  • Connected Courses is a veritable cornucopia of ways of participating with no central platform.
  • colliding through a loosely orchestrated cross-network remix, immersive theater where participants are all experiencing a different narrative.
  • hybrid network, more like a constellation that looks different based on where one stands and who one is.
  • a site of productive tension that is characteristic of connected learning.

I agree with Maha; these are exquisite quotes. 

  • Connected learning is predicated on bringing together three spheres of learning that are most commonly disconnected in our lives:
  • peer sociability
  • personal interests/affinity
  • opportunities for recognition.

That is, for us in Connected Courses:

  • our personal interests and expertise
  • reciprocity and fun in the social stream
  • institutional status/reputation


Thanks Maha and Mimi for your insightful reflections. I’ve had fun thinking about things in this connected way, and hope to make headway into a more connected way of reflecting using Diigo groups.

What leadership has meant to me

Photo source:

This year, by default, I’ve been head of library at Melbourne High School. At no point have I desired this position, and I’m happy to say that we have a wonderful head of library all set to go next year, Pam Saunders, who is currently head of library at Princes Hill. However, despite the trials and tribulations of being default head, I have to admit that I’m grateful for the new experiences which I would never have deliberately chosen but appreciate retrospectively.

I came across this paragraph about a particular style of leadership which describes the my style perfectly – only I didn’t know it was a style; I was just following my gut feeling –

In teams one of the more effective styles of leadership is the participative style. This style of leader seeks to work with team members and encourages collaboration. The participative leader consults and looks for consensus when making decisions. This style of leadership welcomes suggestions from the team and does not respond by merely paying these suggestions lip service but genuinely considers how these suggestions can be used.

In terms of the participative style of leadership, I’m glad I went with my gut feeling and amazed by the diverse talents of my team. You really don’t know the extent of what people are capable of until you trust them (and thus empower them) to take responsibility for their areas of expertise. I think it may have taken a bit longer for them to trust me, and the time is takes for each person can’t be rushed. At this point, despite the dramas we’re experiencing every day in the midst of our refurbishment and changes to stocktake since we’ve adopted RFID, I’m feeling quietly happy knowing that we’ve had an awesome year, and that so much good has happened as a result of our collaborative efforts.

Next year I hope to focus more deeply on a meaningful use of social media in student learning. I’m also keen to develop my research skills to a stage where I feel qualified to prepare our students for university. I’m in two minds about whether I should contact research librarians at universities or Masters students who would have deep knowledge of the research process. Any suggestions will be greatly appreciated.

Where I am now, where I’ve come from. Reflection.

Reflection and evaluation have always come easily to me, for which I am grateful. It’s not always pleasant but it does help to move forward, or rather, break out of one skin into the next.

In my professional life, I’ve celebrated with my colleagues our first term ‘under my leadership’. I say that with a smile because my role as head of library at Melbourne High School has been passed to me like an unwanted basketball, and my leadership has depended desperately on the experience and good will of my colleagues. Still, at the end of a term which contained an unusually high number of new challenges for all of us, we acknowledged (and celebrated with Laurent cake!) our successes and triumphs, our new directions and relationships. It’s always been a challenge for me to see the positive things amongst the clutter of problems and unresolved issues which tend to cloud my clear vision, being a perfectionist, and often demanding of myself unrealistic goals, but I’m happy to say that, with the help of good friends, I accepted the cake and focused on the whole picture. We had, after all, successfully managed the move to RFID (with related technical issues, as always); moved the huge cultural shift of a silent library – having provided the VCE students with an alternative space for their private study sessions – which surprised us all by demonstrating that most students actually preferred to study under our politically incorrect hovering and insistence on silence than go to the more relaxed space with a moderate amount of noise;  acted on our determination to leave the library more often to make connections with teachers and be associated less with desk duty and ‘library duties’ and more with meaningful support for teachers and students; made a good start on our promise to staff for delivery of services which responded to their specific requests for support, both in curriculum creation and collaborative teaching; worked on the planning and preparation for a refurbishment of the front of our library involving a temporary reallocation of desks, shelves, books and the like in readiness for demolition some time next term, and many more things I won’t mention because this paragraph is getting much too long.

In my personal professional life, some things changed – as they do. My activity within social networks was reduced but not weakened. Obviously I had much less time for online interaction, and sadly missed some opportunities and events (not all), but my focus was more strategic, more targeted and less serendipitous. Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and other online communities have still been my lifeline, professional development, inspiration and connection to new developments and ideas. Blog posts have become less regular as priorities have shifted – all as it should be – in exchange for projects which have resulted in the satisfaction of making things happen, introducing good changes and bringing some people with me.

Do I still have readers? I’m not sure – but then this blog hasn’t attracted dialogue with others for some time. Does it matter? Maybe a little – everyone wants some kind of response when they write (I think), but then again, the writing clears my head and creates another record amongst all the posts since 2008. It may be sand art but I value the opportunity to share my thoughts with what is potentially parts of the world – at least a world further than my own backyard.

What have I learned this year?

My colleagues are my strength and support – at school and beyond. If you openly value and respect people, they will reward you with good things and surprise you with unexpected things too. Leadership is not control; it can survive uncertainty as long as that doesn’t turn to fear which makes you lose trust in your people. Life’s too short to keep on the tried and true, safe path – follow your instincts. The change you want will take time. Celebrate with your friends – and cake!

Window to the real world: student reflection and evaluation of their blogging experience (year 9s)

Marc Chagall, The Window

My focus for peer observation (as part of my Professional Learning Practice)  is my collaboration with Nick Fairlie and his 2 Year 9 English classes. Nick asked if I could help him do something different with his students, we decided to try out Posterous as a blogging platform. Readers of previous posts will know that we created a main teachers’ blog which we used for instruction and writing prompts, and the 2 classes of students created their own blogs which we linked to the teachers’ blog.

Our aims for this project:

  • to provide a collaborative and open online platform for student in the hope that an authentic and peer  readership (beyond that of the teacher) would develop an authentic writing voice.
  • to increase student motivation through the dialogue in the commenting section of the blogs as well as through the ownership of the students’ own personalised blogs.
  • to create a community of thinkers and writers across 2 classes by linking all blogs to Nick’s blog
  • to motivate students’ writing through dialogue with a broader and global reading audience
  • to provide opportunity for personal dialogue with Australian authors (Isobelle Carmody and Michael Gerard Bauer)

After blogging with 2 year 9 English classes for a year, it was time to provide students with the opportunity to reflect on and evaluate their experiences. I wrote a post entitled ‘Reflect about your blogging experience’ with a broad range of questions but open response format.

The students responded honestly and thoughtfully. Their reflections were based on a retrospective analysis of their blogging experiences and addressed a wide range of aspects to result in rich analysis and valuable metacognition. In all cases, despite varying degrees of recorded satisfaction with the blogging tasks, students acknowledged an enriching experience including learning they didn’t expect but appreciated.

The mix of personal writing in a public space was challenging, and we expected this. I’ve observed that initial apprehension was replaced by the excitement of being read by an authentic audience including that of peers and also of those from the other side of the world. Students felt increasingly safer in the supported environment with specific guidelines for appropriate and positive online responses and interaction.

It’s interesting that such a competitive and mark-oriented cohort has taken the time to write so much and so well in their own time when nothing was assessed. The comments in the students’ final evaluative post attest to engagement due to factors outside the reward of marks. The community of thinkers and writers which developed allowed students to feel that their writing mattered, and that their personalisation of their space and style enhanced their sense of self. Many students identified the blogs as a highlight of the year’s English classes and hoped to continue blogging next year.

Certainly the experience further developed students’ tolerance of others’ ideas, and pushed them out of the comfort of their own views, often resulting in a wider reading to gain a greater context for their own writing. In some cases students initiated further involvement in online writing and reviewing spaces for their personal satisfaction.

Our aim in this project was explore the possibilities of writing as metacognition, providing opportunities for students to think deeply, question and write honestly – not what they thought the teacher would want to read but as a form of personal consciousness. We were aware of the confronting nature of these tasks but we are also convinced that the outcomes have been even more valuable than expected. Although we focused on metacognition above pure writing exercises, we realised that the writing improved in sophistocation and fluency as a result of the flow of ideas.

In conclusion, this has been a highly motivating and enjoyable experience for us as teachers, and the students’ reflections and evaluations also attest to their enjoyment of the experience. There is always room for improvement, and the students have provided us with ideas for a modified approach for next year. We have been continually impressed with the high quality of thinking and writing overall, as has the global community of readers who have attested to this in their numbers and positive comments.

What follows is a very lengthy detailed description of featured student responses linked to their full posts. (Readers can stop here if they’ve had enough).

In his post, Simon has eloquently expressed the transformative possibilities of an open community of writers enabled by blogging.

“This Posterous adventure has brought a new beginning to my use of the social network. Looking back at the few posts I’ve published to the world, I can see the journey I have taken, but it is not over yet. For all I know, I may not be what I know; there are still some things I haven’t explored. This experience is like one of an engaging classroom; you never want the bell to ring. I have planted precious seeds that are now fully grown evergreen trees. I have the motivation to express my ideas and about myself, even if it is in the blog form. I have discovered new ways to express my word art. I have explored a vast network of shared information. I have discussed controversial issues. I have expressed myself. And now I am here. Reading everyone else’s comments and posts was also a fully rewarding experience. I could grasp the perceptions of things from different angles. I could get more takes on a different item. I could get to know other people. Blogging was a different experience, but it still is an open gate full of opportunity and answers. That’s how amazing it can be. So thank you everyone for staying with me till the end of the year.”

In his post, Krishnak appreciated being able to read what his peers had written:

“Reading other blogs also allowed me to gain a perspective on the opinions of others. What others thought about and what others wrote about opened my eyes to new ideas. The interaction between fellow bloggers allowed us to expand on new ideas and thoughts about life, and also helped me to gain an insight to what people with a different background thought about the same topic.”

In his post, “jialew” reflected on how blogging improved his writing:

“Writing had always been one of my many dislikes, with the help of classmates I started to grow out of that shell and approach the task. By reading their posts I gained an insight of what they had put into their posts, and most importantly what their views of the world is like.”

He understood how difficult good quality commenting actually was:

“Commenting may look simple, but I found it very hard, especially commenting on the friends’ posts. Thinking about it rendered my thoughts and contention blank, I had no clue what to do.”

He appreciated the global connections –

“Being able to connect to people outside of a restricted classroom is interesting, especially when you think about the distance that that separates the writers and viewers.”

Technical problems are unavoidable. Students should be given the opportunity to become independent problem solvers, not to expect everything to work smoothly, and not to be afraid of experimenting with solutions. He faced technical issues and worked through them.

“ I had some unfortunate issues with the technology within Posterous, at times it would freeze and reload the page when I’m nearly finished. To solve these issues I either just ignored it or wrote a brief plan for the topic; soon I would find out that I would either go off track or become focused on an unintended subject.”

In his post, Ashley admitted that blogging ended up being a valuable experience for him.

“Blogging this year has been an interesting and rewarding activity and I will continue to blog. I always thought that blogging was a boring outdated activity but after experiencing it for myself it has changed my mind. I recommend that everyone should be blogging even if it’s only occasionally because it is such a unique and unmissable activity.”

He understood the value of recording his thinking in his blog writing –
“Many times I’ve said to myself, “what is the point of writing it down when I know in my head I think what I will”. While this is true to a point, it is also very wrong. I thought I could remember it all but as I grow the more I have to remember. I think it is the same logic as why we take photos. Sure, we can remember things we did in them but they can still be forgotten and can remain fresher on photos.”

Kobie (post here) appreciated the reflective and open nature of the writing prompts which offered a freedom that assessment tasks did not have. The blog writing was not assessed.

Having in a sense, a homework assignment revolved around writing what you feel, was pretty refreshing a different… better than any assessment tasks!
I approached the task initially enthusiastic, but wary: I thought it’d be more of a ‘write this and make sure you do it to these requirements’ task. Once I realized it was about free expression and thought, I became more comfortable with it.

He also had trouble with commenting –

Commenting was… to be honest, difficult. Mostly because it felt awkward; being told to comment on your classmates writing and critique it felt strange…

My reflection:
This response is understandable for a few reasons. Firstly, commenting is responding to others’ writing, and should ideally be a natural and voluntary thing. Young people use commenting in a conversational way without any particular structure, often using ‘text speak’, and not necessarily as constructive criticism. Commenting is a valuable aspect of written dialogue which needs practice. To make it easier for students, we could provide examples of rich, authentic commenting. Students already have a choice as to which students’ posts they respond to.

Eric Wong (post here)
had blogged before but enjoyed the wider audience and interaction of this blog much more.

“This was actually not my first blogging experience as I had a previous one in year 8 where i had to blog about my experiences and findings when doing an assignment therefore i was pretty comfortable about blogging. This was not as significant as it didn’t have many comments and views. Using posterous spaces is so much better because of the various topics i receive from my teachers and it actually makes me think deeply about my life as a Melbourne High student.”

He eventually understood the value of the online writing community:

I initially didn’t like the fact that i had this blog to myself but as time passed, i found out that this blog belonged to the world and especially my classmates.

Hanan (post here) was one of many students who identified the valuable aspect of freedom in the blogging format. He comments on the fact that initial discomfort with the new form of writing disappears with practice and is replaced by enjoyment.

“Blogging gives me the freedom and time to express my thoughts and past and present experiences. As I write more, I enjoy it more and become more comfortable with it.”

He understood the importance of exposure to differing viewpoints:

“You may agree or disagree with other bloggers, but this creates an interesting conversation on what is being discussed.”

William (post here) understood the value of the open writing platform enabling a community of writers:
“The fact that we can see other blogs means we can get a profound and meaningful view into the minds of the people we learn, forge deep relationships with and see every day”.

William expresses beautifully the transition from initial apprehension to embracing the blog as a place for ‘soul searching’ and heartfelt writing:

“When we first began writing our blogs, I felt slightly apprehensive. I almost felt as if it was meaningless; who in the right mind would read the ramblings of teenage boys? This was the first time I had ever ‘blogged’, and I just followed the instructions of my teacher and the actions of my peers. But as I typed, I found it wasn’t hard at all. It was almost as if I was releasing a burden from my mind onto virtual paper. It was in a sense, soul searching. As I wrote, I started examining myself; my desires, my hopes and actions. I started examining the world and its happenings closer than I had ever done before. I explored key fundamental issues with today’s society and myself.
The apprehensiveness disappeared almost instantly. I enjoy writing immensely and it was a natural process; it felt productive (since it was homework and I was improving my English skills at the same time) and somewhat enjoyable at the same time. If only all our homework was like this! The liberty and freedom to express your creativity and thoughts is my favourite part of blogging. I didn’t have to think of things to write; it just came to me as I wrote in a logical order”.

Unlike some students, who found the open-endedness of post prompts challenging, William embraced them:

“Best of all, it felt casual. We were told that there was no pressure, and we could write anything we wanted. This lack of restriction meant that anything I thought would immediately get written down.
I feel blogging has been an invaluable experience and it has been the most enjoyable type of homework we get for English.”

Hayden’s response (post here) is testament to the challenge of writing prompts which encouraged higher order thinking and pushed students’ thinking and writing to a high standard:

“I found that the hardest part of blogging was always to start. I could never consider a way to start my blogs without serious thinking.”

He appreciated the ability to share his writing and read his peers’ writing:

“ I also find that having an audience for my blogs compels me to review what I have written much more thoroughly to ensure that I did not make any typing mistakes. The most important thing about these blogs were that my classmates had to do the same task as I, allowing me to see their views on the same topic, how they expressed it and what was good about it, allowing me to mimic their techniques as well.”

He understood the value of learning with and from his classmates:

“ I feel as though all of this was simply a program where we, the students, improve each other’s abilities without the assistance of a teacher. “

He appreciated being able to personalise his blog space:
“The fact that I could customize my wall meant that I was able to feel much comfortable with viewing my space and writing the blogs to my heart’s content”.

Simon (post here) understood the value of the global audience:
“ I think it’s great that we are writing for the world, and knowing that you are really makes you go that extra mile to make it the best.”

Tony (post here) solved his problem of writers’ block by broadening his reading and expanding his exposure to different ideas. This kind of independence and initative is undoubtedly valuable:

“When I started blogging on posterous, I felt the challenges of writing. My first blog was tedious and I couldn’t think of nothing to write about. I didn’t have developed ideas. The hardest part about blogging is thinking what to write which will impress the global audience. As a result, I began to read the newspaper daily to accumulate some fresh ideas. The editorial section was full of sophisticated ideas that I could not fully comprehend. As you read more and more, you take more in and begin to realise there are different ideas, elements and aspects you have not even thought about.”

He suggested that his writing had improved due to his reading audience:
“I am fully aware that my writing has changed over the course of my posting experience. My ideas, sentence structure and fluency have improved drastically, ameliorating my overall writing. I believe it is because I have to put lots of effort to come up with these deep thoughts.  It is important to have an audience for my writing because they can critique my work. They can help me find the flaws of my piece of work and improve it, make it unblemished.”

Tony’s blogging experience has led him to explore other online writing opportunities:
“Due to the fact I like blogging quite a lot, I have started writing blogs and comprehensive guides for several websites such as maplewiki and basilmarket. I write on them because I use to play the game MapleStory and I found it quite enjoyable. I want to help out new players in the best way possible. I already have about 24,000 views on my guides.I am going to continue blogging as a hobby. Thank you Mr Fairlie and Ms. Sheko for introducing this to me.”

This is an example of how an initial understanding of blogging satisfaction can lead to the initiation of further, authentic writing outside school. In this case the student has chosen to write for personal satisfaction, identifying an area of expertise and sharing this with a global audience. The student has gone beyond the confines of writing for assessment only.

Michael (post here) gave an honest and poetic evaluation of the value of his peers’ blog posts:

“As you scroll down the countless posts of the two classes of year 9, you will inevitably find shards of preciousness — sometimes golden dust; other times, fool’s gold.
But, undeniably, the thing that gives away the shine of a man is the title of his blog.
You really do dig deep with blogs.”

Patrick (post here) appreciated the development of quality writing through the posts, and acknowledged an improvement:
This was the first time I had made a blog which is why in the beginning of my Posterous space, my posts were short and had little content for pondering. As time goes by and as I practise, my posts get longer and contains a far better quality of content up until now although there had been some variations. This made me to believe that creating a blog could actually supplement and even improve my English writing skills.

We had no trouble with inappropriate comments, as Patrick stated:
“Fortunately there was no cases of trolling or cyber bullying which is unlikely due to the nature of my audience.”

Alan (post here) identified the peer and global audience responsible for the improvement and enhancement of writing skills and broadening of perspective:

“Through the blogging my writing has changed. Ideas are easier to put into words and I now have a different perspective on topics. I feel it is important to be able to read other people’s blogs so that you can gain another perspective on the topic an it is also important to be able to comment and ask questions so that you can fully understand what they are saying. It is also important to comment with overseas people so that we can get an even wider view on the topic. Overseas commentator also made the blogging experience more enjoyable as you felt your views were being read by more people. Through blogging I was able to get a better understanding of myself and others.”

Vinh (post here) was honest in his evaluation of the blogging experience. Blogging opened up experiences he would not normally seek out:

“A blog, in its core, is basically a part of your mind. Just typed out, and shared with the world. I don’t see myself in the future as being the artsy, blog-keeping type but i think this years experience has opened me up to a whole new side to the internet, which I would never have bothered to explore.”

Writing to a public audience was challenging to Vinh:
“I don’t really like putting myself and my thoughts up for public judgement. Even if its anonymous. In a way, you could call me quote introverted, i like keeping things to myself.”

He found writing fluency of ideas challenging, especially since English is his second language. The example of metacognition here is worth noting:

“At first, I had quite a bit of difficulty making my writing fluid and connecting ideas effectively, just because I was, literally, translating my thoughts as i wrote them down. The way I think also made this harder as I tend to think in chunks of ideas, rather than words or single ideas. Sometimes these chunks all link together nicely and so i write fluently and quickly. Other times i get stuck. Having these chunks in Vietnamese also doesn’t help the block.”

Blogging has opened up a new world for Nathan (post here):

“Blogging hasn’t changed my style of writing, but it has reignited my passion to do some recreational reading and writing. I now realise that the world of literature and writing is endless and I should never be empty of ideas if I have the right determination and will.”

Lachie (post here) appreciated the value of having an authentic audience for writing:
“It was also a great experience to have such a diverse audience to write for. Writing without an audience is pointless. You may as well be talking to a wall. Nobody hears your opinions, your beliefs if you have no audience.”

He summed up the value of a global audience nicely:

“Having people from Finland and America or any other country viewing and commenting on my work is truly a great privilege and honor. However, with this comes a greater responsibility to only write appropriate comments and pieces. These connections made me feel as if my writing actually meant something, that people enjoy my writing”.

He gained a valuable insight into his peers through their writing.  Herein lies the value of sharing writing with peers.
“The insight that I have gained from blogging is that there is more to people than meets the eye. That is, that you cant judge people from their exterior but what its on the inside that you should judge and that counts.”

Andrew (post here) commented that the quality of writing follows the sophistocation of thoughts expressed:
“The insight that I have gained from blogging is that there is more to people than meets the eye. That is, that you can’t judge people from their exterior but what its on the inside that you should judge and that counts”.

He offered some insights into how writing prompts could be more engaging to students:

“For one, I feel as though the topics were too abstract, and too different from student life. Having debates about school curriculums, education systems and subjects, sounds slightly more appealing than having broad, abstract ideas, that don’t really relate too much. Though I enjoyed it, I believe having debates on things that we can relate to, would be better. The ideas can still be abstract and broad; just more relatable to education, or student life.”

“xiangxxu” (post here) identified the personal space of the blog and audience as affirming:

“Having a blog that i can control and customise as i please made me feel responsible and important, as i can do as i please on the blog and it was up to me to control what i would like to express, thus making me feel responsible. Also it made me felt important as narcissistic this may sound, but i felt more valued as a person when i have people from around the globe able to read my thoughts on multiple issues.”

Less confident students have acknowledged a development of confidence in writing, as well as the value of being able to read others’ posts. “Flaming ball of doom” (post here) reflects honestly on his shaky beginnings:

“I was reluctant at first as I wondered why would anyone want to read what I had to say? Then I realized nobody was forced to read it and the people who did would hopefully like it. When I began to write my first post I was slighty nervous but excited and as I kept writing I stopped being nervous. My readers’ comments on my posts helped me a lot as it allowed me to see how others interpreted my posts and I had to answer some tough questions.”

Vincent (post here) loved the opportunity for dialogue with the Finnish students:

“Having the ability to communicate with Finnish students provided a wonderful knowledge and insight into the way they live.”

Andrew (post here) valued the authentic audience:

“Of course, without an audience, writing would be somewhat pointless. Nobody hears what we have to say, our opinions, our beliefs are just ignored”.

In his post, Sasank described his initial apprehension about sharing his thoughts with a public audience online, and admitted being reassured by the secure and supported blogging space:

“Before this year, i had never blogged as i was protective of my privacy. I was afraid of entering a new world, where i would be sharing things very personal to strangers. HOwever, as the year has gone by, i have developed a confidence in myself and others, as my views have been accepted and constructively commented on”.

His observations underlined the importance of giving students the opportunity to learn constructive feedback and tolerance of others’ opinions:

“ I had to comment on things which i did not agree to, and i still had to be ‘nice’.”

It was interesting to read that the blogging tasks set for homework were experienced differently to other homework:

“It also provided a great diversion from other homework, and basically just gave me some time to myself.”

He admitted that this experience had given him new confidence in his own ideas and writing:

“Again, it gave me more confidence and i came to know what others thought about my style of writing.”

Ilan (post here) acknowledges that a good blog post takes much thinking, time and rigorous editing.

“At the start blogging was a bit of a challenge. I had all of these ideas in my head, most were absolutely terrible, a couple I could form into a semi reasonable post but there is a big difference between half thought out ideas and a well written posterous post. The problem was transferring a thought front my head onto the page and making it make sense.”

The open and personal nature of post prompts allowed students to express their thoughts in a way unrelated to curriculum, and students were able to focus on refining their writing to best express their ideas:

“This didn’t only help get the ideas out, it also helped refine them and make them more logical and understandable.”

Brendan (post here) was initially sceptical about using social media for serious writing but he was soon convinced otherwise:

“At first I was skeptical because I thought it would be just another Facebook however the passages written by my fellow students were not stupid and useless such as ‘I’m bored’.”
If you’ve read to the bottom of this page, I hope you appreciate as much as I do the value of students’ reflection and evaluation of their blogging experiences, using Posterous spaces to create a community of thinkers and readers. Nick and I have found the experience extremely rewarding, and we’ve learned as much from the students as they have from us. I hope to continue to provide deep learning opportunities using social media next year.

What’s been happening – term 3 has been a busy one

I’m not the only one remarking on the lapses between blog posts. The blog is no longer the main platform for sharing and communicating – there is a long, long list of online places which need to be fed and looked after – for me that includes other blogs, Twitter, Pinterest, Scoop.it, Diigo, Slideshare, Vimeo, Libguides, Facebook and all its groups, and more. So I thought I’d drop in and do a quick update on what may be worth checking out in case it’s helpful or even interesting.

My school library blog has been keeping up with reading ambassadors for the National Year of Reading (#nyor12). These short and informal interviews are a pleasure to read, and reveal thoughtful responses to reading preferences. We’ve also recently celebrated 2012 Book Week with a hugely enjoyable ‘party’ in the library. I’ve included photos I think you’ll enjoy of our costume and cake competitions so that’s definitely worth checking out. This is the first Book Week celebration I’ve attended at Melbourne High School since I started a year ago, and it was fantastic. I was so impressed by the willingness of staff and students to dress up and play the part. The creativity displayed in our book-themed cake competition added a gastronomical dimension – who can resist cake? Yes, we did go on a bit about the cakes looking too good to eat but it didn’t last long.

I’ve been having such a good time resourcing the art curriculum in the last few months. My art blog churns out a diverse selection of inspiration to art students and teachers (I hope). This includes images, photography, design and animation.

Our students explored links to websites with antiquated encyclopedia images to create their ‘transformations’ which I combined in a slide show. The reduced image size doesn’t do justice to the details in the students’ work, so have a look at larger ones in Mihaela’s new art blog.

Yes! Our head of art now has a blog, and so do her students. This term our year 9s and 10s were lucky enough to get iPads, so we decided to get them to create Posterous blogs which we linked to Mihaela’s ‘mother blog’ and encouraged them to start snapping away with their iPad cameras so that they could develop a store of visual inspiration for their work. The beauty of a mobile device is the opportunity to capture photos as you go about your everyday activities. I’ve found the best images are the unexpected ones. I was inspired to get the art students blogging when I saw my dear friend, Marie Salinger’s, student blogs. Marie’s students have realised the rich potential of blogs in terms of journalling, reflecting, evaluating and just plain sharing. A blog is visual, it’s sequential, easy to access online and share with others; it invites responses and conversation. In her Visual Arts blog, Marie has reflected about the way in which iPads have enriched learning for her girls. The way Marie’s students used their blog to experiment with and evaluate iPad apps for drawing, then share with others, inspired me to talk to Mihaela about doing the same. Consequently I went into obsessive mode and lived and breathed art and apps for a couple of weeks, adding an Art Apps page in our LibGuides, my art blog, Pinterest, Flickr and Diigo.

Robot I am Apps used: Blender Pixeltwist                 (iphoneart.com)

Recently a dedicated team of students from the co-curricular group, Writing Competition, successfully wrote a book in a day. They had to collaboratively write at least 8,000 words and illustrate their story. The whole thing had to be done within 12 hours. I was very proud of the way they managed to work together and fuse their ideas and talents to produce a fantasy story for the Children’s Hospital. I hope to be able to share their book once I check the copyright.

Well, that’s it for now. Hope some of this has been useful to you.

Looking back through 2011

Looking back through 2011, and trying to come to grips with how much has changed, how many people suffered or died, how many sorrowed or rejoiced, who was married. Remembering political dramas, ethical battles, private and public celebrations.

In 2011 I visited the Google Academy and changed schools. Challenges and new beginnings stir up the pot and create new possibilities and relationships. As we age we acquire more empathy whilst being more aware of our own human failings. Don’t we?

I hope you have all grown and collected good memories this year, and I wish you an excellent New Year. My hopes for the new year include new connections with teachers and students at Melbourne High School, and a return to a more regular conversation with my PLN. Conversation has become scarce on this blog and I miss it.

Thanks to Hamish Curry for the video. Agreed, Google+ has the good stuff.

Teacher blogging challenge – Kick start activity 1: Down blog’s memory lane


Learning anything means moving forward one step at a time, although sometimes you leap ahead and skip steps, or other times, slip and have to get up again. The steps are not always smooth but that’s life.

This is the first post for the first teacherchallenge for advanced bloggers in the Kick Start Your Blog.

The advanced teacher blogging challenge is to encourage experienced bloggers to continue to post regularly, improve the quality of their blog, increase readership, allow further networking and importantly, to learn together. It offers a unique showcase reflecting individual knowledge, approaches, experience, wisdom and hindsight of experienced bloggers. When we write reflective and informative posts on similar themes to the beginners and share with each other, we build a rich community and supportive network.

So, memory lane for my blog…

  1. When did you start blogging and what instigated this?

It was May 2008. I decided to take on a Web 2.0 course run by the Yarra Plenty Regional Library.

2.  What did you start out blogging about?

My first post was just an introduction to the blog, and an explanation for the blog title. (My second post was a YouTube video of a shrimp on a treadmill! I think I was trying to be funny in both posts, and the reason was that I felt awkward writing and publishing, and was covering up with humour and hyperbole. By the way, the shrimp video was a metaphor for moving forward with technology. Really.

3. What did you enjoy about your early blogging?

I realised that I missed writing (from my school days), that I loved having a voice, and publishing in the hope that someone would read what I had to say and comment.

4. How much time did blogging take for you in the early days.

It actually ate up a lot of my time. The first time you do anything, it takes a while to figure things out. I’m not intuitive about technology, so it takes me longer to figure things out than usual. Just figuring out how to add pictures, videos, widgets, etc. – all these things come easily now, but not then.

5. What frustrated you about your early blogging efforts?

Well, in those days, my computer would crash pretty often, so I’d lose what seemed like hours of thinking and writing. I refused to write on a word doc first, and so I used to curse a lot when things disappeared.

6. What were the highlights of your early blogging?

Receiving a response from people is definitely a highlight. I suppose, in a way, writing a blog is like posting journal reflections, so you do it for yourself, but it’s great to get comments, particularly when these develop into a conversation, and even moreso when you get to know people through this exercise.

7. Is blogging a selfish, lonely, egotistical (you get the picture) exercise?

People would sometimes sneer at me blogging, and tell me to get a life. Writing a blog is actually the opposite of a self-centred exercise because it connects you with other bloggers, with people who share your professional and personal interests, who support you and extend your thinking, who challenge you, and who, most importantly, take you out of the walled garden of schools and teaching.

8. Have you changed your blogging style or subject matter over the years?

Yes and no. I suppose I used to feature new technologies in education more often, but since then I’ve become more reflective about my practice.

9. What would you say to teachers or students about blogging?

I would say, just start blogging! It’s a space that belongs to you, giving you a voice, and documenting your development and learning. You’ll be surprised by the variety and depth of your progress when you look back through you posts.

10. Where do you get your blogging ideas from?

From my classroom experiences, from reading others’ blogs, Twitter and Facebook. Although most of the blogs I read are educational, they focus on different areas, eg art, literature, animation, libraries, museums, psychology, gifted learning, technology, music, science, maths, etc.


Week 3 – Take a photo with movement

This has been cross-posted from Through global lenses

Week 3: Take a photo:
With movement, maybe one of your hobbies, or activities at school or freetime

*Write about:
Your hobby/hobbies or extra-curricular activities at school, what made you choose them and what they give to you.

Photo by Danielnau on Flickr

Cricket and football were at the top of our boys’ list of hobbies and pasttimes for Week 3′s assignment. This prompted a discussion about the different types of sport with questions about Australian Rules football and cricket.

You’re right; cricket is not a very common sport in the USA. I don’t know to much about cricket, but it kind of looks like baseball. Is cricket only a male sport, or do women play too? Wow 4-5 hours! That’s a really long game! Do all games last that long or only the games that go into overtime?

And yes its not very common sport in Finland. Actually I don’t even know any Finn that plays it. I’ve seen some cricket games on TV and they sure are very long. How long is an average cricket game?

(Another comment) Is cricket little bit like baseball? Cos i only know how you throw the ball and that the bat looks weird:)

In some cases students learned the rules of sports they didn’t play in their country, for example, one of the Australian students explained the rules of squash to a student from Finland.

There is ample evidence that students are engaged in learning from the overseas students – much more than if they had just read the information in a text.

Finnish student: Mostly we swim in summer because its only time in the year when water temperature goes over 20 degree Celsius.

Wow! I can’t believe that 20 degrees is warm. What is the water temperature usually?

It really depends on the time of year. Most of summer its like 15-19 degrees but it goes way below that on other time of the year. Some finns even go to swim when water is just over 0 degree during winter.

Photo by tiaafi on Flickr

Experiences are very different amongst students. This American student’s comment has been echoed by some of the Australian students:

I like this picture I looks like it came out of an imagination not from a real place some where. I have never touched snow but I have seen it before and it did look like a lot of fun.

Photo by keithtAU on Flickr

The above photo was greeted with surprise

(Finnish student): Woah! I never believed that there is a place fort ice skating in Australia. Is that some kind of indoor ice skating arena?

Sometimes the comments are about the photography:

Photo by brentonwau on Flickr

I really like this picture. You can see the movement in it but its still very sharp (Finnish student)

Some responses go deeper:

Photo by KierenT_au

I got this picture when I was gardening and when I saw it I was fascinated. It showed to me that us humans should be like this big although there are a lot of minor obstacles in the way there are also very big ones which I think is a perfect example of life. This bug showed me that there’s always a way around even if it was very big and take a long time to get around it still managed to get around.

While watching this bug for ages I just saw at some points that you get stuck and cant move and you need a helping hand or you might just get stuck and struggle for a bit but soon figure out how to get unstuck. I think that time is the greatest thing on this planet without time where would we be? Also without choices where would we be what if we couldn’t make our own choices?

I’m not sure if I could have asked for a better response if I had included more prescriptive guidelines. This student has blended photo with higher order and creative thinking. It’s interesting to see the occasional contribution with a surprising perspective. When students read the entire cohort’s responses, they get a rich diversity – so much to take in and respond to.

Understanding is unpacked through the dialogue. An Australian student talked about swimming when it was 30 degrees and an American student responded by saying

That’s insane 30 degrees I would die down in florida when it gets to 40 i think it’s like an ice age!!! It’s so crazy on the difference between there and here. By the way your picture is very cool and the pool looks amazing:) I love swimming.

A Finnish student clarified:

Are you talking about fahrenheit or celsius? Cos 30 degrees in celsius is really hot and morgan is talking about an ice age:)

Whatever the students have shared in this week’s assignment, there is plenty of positive reinforcement from their cohort:

This is very cool. the fact that it’s your passion and you enjoy it is even cooler. I like how you actually enjoy and look forward to it is awesome.