EduTech AU 2015, Day 2, Higher Ed Leaders, “Change and innovation in the Digital Age: the future is social, mobile and personalised.” #edutechau @timbuckteeth

And heeere’s Steve Wheeler (@timbuckteeth)! Steve is an A/Prof of Learning Technologies at Plymouth in the UK. He and I have been at the same event before (CSEDU, Barcelona) and we seem to agree on a lot. Today’s cognitive bias warning is that I will probably agree with Steve a lot, again. I’ve already quizzed him on his talk because it looked like he was about to try and, as I understand it, what he wants to talk about is how our students can have altered expectations without necessarily becoming some sort of different species. (There are no Digital Natives. No, Prensky was wrong. Check out Helsper, 2010, from the LSE.) So, on to the talk and enough of my nonsense!

Steve claims he’s going to recap the previous speaker, but in an English accent. Ah, the Mayflower steps on the quayside in Plymouth, except that they’re not, because the real Mayflower steps are in a ladies’ loo in a pub, 100m back from the quay. The moral? What you expect to be getting is not always what you get. (Tourists think they have the real thing, locals know the truth.)

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” – Arthur C. Clarke.

Educational institutions are riddled with bad technology purchases where we buy something, don’t understand it, don’t support it and yet we’re stuck with it or, worse, try to teach with it when it doesn’t work.

Predicting the future is hard but, for educators, we can do it better if we look at:

  • Pedagogy first
  • Technology next (that fits the technology)

Steve then plugs his own book with a quote on technology not being a silver bullet.

But who will be our students? What are their expectations for the future? Common answers include: collaboration (student and staff), and more making and doing. They don’t like being talked at. Students today do not have a clear memory of the previous century, their expectations are based on the world that they are living in now, not the world that we grew up in.

Meet Student 2.0!

The average digital birth of children happens at about six months – but they can be on the Internet before they are born, via ultrasound photos. (Anyone who has tried to swipe or pinch-zoom a magazine knows why kids take to it so easily.) Students of today have tools and technology and this is what allows them to create, mash up, and reinvent materials.

What about Game Based Learning? What do children learn from playing games

Three biggest fears of teachers using technology

  • How do I make this work?
  • How do I avoid looking like an idiot?
  • They will know more about it than I do.

Three biggest fears of students

  • Bad wifi
  • Spinning wheel of death
  • Low battery

The laptops and devices you see in lectures are personal windows on the world, ongoing conversations and learning activities – it’s not purely inattention or anti-learning. Student questions on Twitter can be answered by people all around the world and that’s extending the learning dialogue out a long way beyond the classroom.

One of these is Voltaire, one is Steve Wheeler.

One of these is Voltaire, one is Steve Wheeler.

Voltaire said that we were products of our age. Walrick asks how we can prepare students for a future? Steve showed us a picture of him as a young boy, who had been turned off asking questions by a mocking teacher. But the last two years of his schooling were in Holland he went to the Philips flying saucer, which was a technology museum. There, he saw an early video conferencing system and that inspired him with a vision of the future.

Steve wanted to be an astronaut but his career advisor suggested he aim lower, because he wasn’t an American. The point is not that Steve wanted to be an astronaut but that he wanted to be an explorer, the role that he occupies now in education.

Steve shared a quote that education is “about teaching students not subjects” and he shared the awesome picture of ‘named quadrilaterals’. My favourite is ‘Bob. We have a very definite idea of what we want students to write as answer but we suppress creative answers and we don’t necessarily drive the approach to learning that we want.

Ignorance spreads happily by itself, we shouldn’t be helping it. Our visions of the future are too often our memories of what our time was, transferred into modern systems. Our solution spaces are restricted by our fixations on a specific way of thinking. This prevents us from breaking out of our current mindset and doing something useful.

What will the future be? It was multi-media, it was web, but where is it going? Mobile devices because the most likely web browser platform in 2013 and their share is growing.

What will our new technologies be? Thinks get smaller, faster, lighter as they mature. We have to think about solving problems in new ways.

Here’s a fire hose sip of technologies: artificial intelligence is on the way up, touch surfaces are getting better, wearables are getting smarter, we’re looking at remote presence, immersive environments, 3D printers are changing manufacturing and teaching, gestural computing, mind control of devices, actual physical implants into the body…

From Nova Spivak, we can plot information connectivity against social connectivity and we want is growth on both axes – a giant arrow point up to the top right. We don’t yet have a Web form that connects information, knowledge and people – i.e. linking intelligence and people. We’re already seeing some of this with recommenders, intelligent filtering, and sentiment tracking. (I’m still waiting for the Semantic Web to deliver, I started doing work on it in my PhD, mumble years ago.)

A possible topology is: infrastructure is distributed and virtualised, our interfaces are 3D and interactive, built onto mobile technology and using ‘intelligent’ systems underneath.

But you cannot assume that your students are all at the same level or have all of the same devices: the digital divide is as real and as damaging as any social divide. Steve alluded to the Personal Learning Networking, which you can read about in my previous blog on him.

How will teaching change? It has to move away from cutting down students into cloned templates. We want students to be self-directed, self-starting, equipped to capture information, collaborative, and oriented towards producing their own things.

Let’s get back to our roots:

  1. We learn by doing (Piaget, 1950)
  2. We learn by making (Papert, 1960)

Just because technology is making some of this doing and making easier doesn’t mean we’re making it worthless, it means that we have time to do other things. Flip the roles, not just the classroom. Let students’ be the teacher – we do learn by teaching. (Couldn’t agree more.)

Back to Papert, “The best learning takes place when students take control.” Students can reflect in blogging as they present their information a hidden audience that they are actually writing for. These physical and virtual networks grow, building their personal learning networks as they connect to more people who are connected to more people. (Steve’s a huge fan of Twitter. I’m not quite as connected as he is but that’s like saying this puddle is smaller than the North Sea.)

Some of our students are strongly connected and they do store their knowledge in groups and friendships, which really reflects how they find things out. This rolls into digital cultural capital and who our groups are.

(Then there was a steam of images at too high a speed for me to capture – go and download the slides, they’re creative commons and a lot of fun.)

Learners will need new competencies and literacies.

Always nice to hear Steve speak and, of course, I still agree with a lot of what he said. I won’t prod him for questions, though.

Rules: As For Them, So For Us

In a previous post, I mentioned a game called “Dog Eat Dog” where players role-play the conflict between Colonist and Native Occupiers, through playing out scenarios that both sides seek to control, with the result being the production of a new rule that encapsulates the ‘lesson’ of the scenario. I then presented education as being a good fit for this model but noted that many of the rules that students have to be obey are behavioural rather than knowledge-focussed. A student who is ‘playing through’ education will probably accumulate a list of rules like this (not in any particular order):

  1. Always be on time for class
  2. Always present your own work
  3. Be knowledgable
  4. Prepare for each activity
  5. Participate in class
  6. Submit your work on time

But, as noted in Dog Eat Dog, the nasty truth of colonisation is that the Colonists are always superior to the Colonised. So, rule 0 is actually: Students are inferior to Teachers. Now, that’s a big claim to make – that the underlying notion in education is one of inferiority. In the Dog Eat Dog framing, the superiority manifests as dominance in decision making and the ability to intrude into every situation. We’ll come back to this.

If we tease apart the rules for students then are some obvious omissions that we would like to see such as “be innovative” or “be creative”, except that these rules are very hard to apply as pre-requisites for progress. We have enough potential difficulty with the measurement of professional skills, without trying to assess if one thing is a creative approach while another is just missing the point or deliberate obfuscation. It’s understandable that five of the rules presented are those that we can easily control with extrinsic motivational factors – 1, 2, 4, 5, and 6 are generally presented as important because of things like mandatory attendance, plagiarism rules and lateness penalties. 3, the only truly cognitive element on the list, is a much harder thing to demand and, unsurprisingly, this is why it’s sometimes easier to seek well-behaved students than it is to seek knowledgable, less-controlled students, because it’s so much harder to see that we’ve had a  positive impact. So, let us accept that this list is naturally difficult to select and somewhat artificial, but it is a reasonable model for what people expect of a ‘good’ student.

Let me ask you some questions before we proceed.

  1. A student is always late for class. Could there be a reasonable excuse for this and, if so, does your system allow for it?
  2. Students occasionally present summary presentations from other authors, including slides prepared by scholarly authors. How do you interpret that?
  3. Students sometimes show up for classes and are obviously out of their depth. What do you do? Should they go away and come back later when they’re ready? Do they just need to try harder?
  4. Students don’t do the pre-reading and try to cram it in just before a session. Is this kind of “just in time” acceptable?
  5. Students sometimes sit up the back, checking their e-mail, and don’t really want to get involved. Is that ok? What if they do it every time?
  6. Students are doing a lot of things and often want to shift around deadlines or get you to take into account their work from other courses or outside jobs. Do you allow this? How often? Is there a penalty?

As you can see, I’ve taken each of the original ‘good student’ points and asked you to think about it. Now, let us accept that there are ultimate administrative deadlines (I’ve already talked about this a lot in time banking) and we can accept that the student is aware of these and are not planning to put all their work off until next century.

Now, let’s look at this as it applies to teaching staff. I think we can all agree that a staff member who meets that list are going to achieve a lot of their teaching goals. I’m going to reframe the questions in terms of staff.

  1. You have to drop your kids off every morning at day care. This means that you show up at your 9am lecture 5 minutes late every day because you physically can’t get there any faster and your partner can’t do it because he/she is working shift work. How do you explain this to your students?
  2. You are teaching a course from a textbook which has slides prepared already. Is it ok to take these slides and use them without any major modification?
  3. You’ve been asked to cover another teacher’s courses for two weeks due to their illness. You have a basis in the area but you haven’t had to do anything detailed for it in over 10 years and you’ll also have to give feedback on the final stages of a lengthy assignment. How do you prepare for this and what, if anything, do you tell the class to brief them on your own lack of expertise?
  4. The staff meeting is coming around and the Head of School wants feedback on a major proposal and discussion at that meeting. You’ve been flat out and haven’t had a chance to look at it, so you skim it on the way to the meeting and take it with you to read in the preliminaries. Given the importance of the proposal, do you think this is a useful approach?
  5. It’s the same staff meeting and Doctor X is going on (again) about radical pedagogy and Situationist philosophy. You quickly catch up on some important work e-mails and make some meetings for later in the week, while you have a second.
  6. You’ve got three research papers due, a government grant application and your Head of School needs your workload bid for the next calendar year. The grant deadline is fixed and you’ve already been late for three things for the Head of School. Do you drop one (or more) of the papers or do you write to the convenors to see if you can arrange an extension to the deadline?

Is this artificial? Well, of course, because I’m trying to make a point. Beyond being pedantic on this because you know what I’m saying, if you answered one way for the staff member and other way for the student then you have given the staff member more power in the same situation than the student. Just because we can all sympathise with the staff member (Doctor X sounds horribly familiar, doesn’t he?) doesn’t that the student’s reasons, when explored and contextualised, are not equally valid.

If we are prepared to listen to our students and give their thoughts, reasoning and lives as much weight and value as our own, then rule 0 is most likely not in play at the moment – you don’t think your students are inferior to you. If you thought that the staff member was being perfectly reasonable and yet you couldn’t see why a student should be extended the same privileges, even where I’ve asked you to consider the circumstances where it could be, then it’s possible that the superiority issue is one that has become well-established at your institution.

Ultimately, if this small list is a set of goals, then we should be a reasonable exemplar for our students. Recently, due to illness, I’ve gone from being very reliable in these areas, to being less reliable on things like the level of preparation I used to do and timeliness. I have looked at what I’ve had to do and renegotiated my  deadlines, apologising and explaining where I need to. As a result, things are getting done and, as far as I know, most people are happy with what I’m doing. (That’s acceptable but they used to be very happy. I have  way to go.) I still have a couple of things to fix, which I haven’t forgotten about, but I’ve had to carry out some triage. I’m honest about this because, that way, I encourage my students to be honest with me. I do what I can, within sound pedagogical framing and our administrative requirements, and my students know that. It makes them think more, become more autonomous and be ready to go out and practice at a higher level, sooner.

This list is quite deliberately constructed but I hope that, within this framework, I’ve made my point: we have to be honest if we are seeing ourselves as superior and, in my opinion, we should work more as equals with each other.

When Does Collaborative Work Fall Into This Trap?

A recent study has shown that crowdsourcing activities are prone to bringing out the competitors’ worst competitive instincts.

“[T]he openness makes crowdsourcing solutions vulnerable to malicious behaviour of other interested parties,” said one of the study’s authors, Victor Naroditskiy from the University of Southampton, in a release on the study. “Malicious behaviour can take many forms, ranging from sabotaging problem progress to submitting misinformation. This comes to the front in crowdsourcing contests where a single winner takes the prize.” (emphasis mine)

You can read more about it here but it’s not a pretty story. Looks like a pretty good reason to be very careful about how we construct competitive challenges in the classroom!

We both want to build this but I WILL DO IT WITH YOUR BONES!

We both want to build this but I WILL DO IT WITH YOUR BONES!

CodeSpells! A Kickstarter to make a difference. @sesperu @codespells #codespells

I first met Sarah Esper a few years ago when she was demonstrating the earlier work in her PhD project with Stephen Foster on CodeSpells, a game-based project to start kids coding. In a pretty enjoyable fantasy game environment, you’d code up spells to make things happen and, along the way, learn a lot about coding. Their team has grown and things have come a long way since then for CodeSpells, and they’re trying to take it from its research roots into something that can be used to teach coding on a much larger scale. They now have a Kickstarter out, which I’m backing (full disclosure), to get the funds they need to take things to that next level.

Teaching kids to code is hard. Teaching adults to code can be harder. There’s a big divide these days between the role of user and creator in the computing world and, while we have growing literary in use, we still have a long way to go to get more and more people creating. The future will be programmed and it is, honestly, a new form of literacy that our children will benefit from.

If you’re one of my readers who likes the idea of new approaches to education, check this out. If you’re an old-timey Multi-User Dungeon/Shared Hallucination person like me, this is the creative stuff we used to be able to do on-line, but for everyone and with cool graphics in a multi-player setting. If you have kids, and you like the idea of them participating fully in the digital future, please check this out.

To borrow heavily from their page, 60% of jobs in science, technology,engineering and maths are computing jobs but AP Computer Science is only taught at 5% of schools. We have a giant shortfall of software people coming up and this will be an ugly crash when it comes because all of the nice things we have become used to in the computing side will slow down and, in some cases, pretty much stop. Invest in the future!

I have no connection to the project apart from being a huge supporter of Sarah’s drive and vision and someone who would really like to see this project succeed. Please go and check it out!

The Earth Magic Sphere image, from the Kickstarter page.

The Earth Magic Sphere image, from the Kickstarter page.

I have a new book out: A Guide to Teaching Puzzle-based learning. #puzzlebasedlearning #education

Time for some pretty shameless self-promotion. Feel free to stop reading if that will bother you.

My colleagues, Ed Meyer from BWU, Raja Sooriamurthi from CMU and Zbyszek Michalewicz (emeritus from my own institution) and I have just released a new book, called “A Guide to Teaching Puzzle-based learning.” What a labour of love this has been and, better yet, we are still still talking to each other. In fact, we’re planning some follow-up events next year to do some workshops around the book so it’ll be nice to work with the team again.

(How to get it? This is the link to Springer, paperback and e-Book. This is the link to Amazon, paperback only I believe.)

Here’s a slightly sleep-deprived and jet-lagged picture of me holding the book as part of my “wow, it got published” euphoria!

See how happy I am?

See how happy I am? And also so out of it.

The book is a resource for the teacher, although it’s written for teachers from primary to tertiary and it should be quite approachable for the home school environment as well. We spent a lot of time making it approachable, sharing tips for students and teachers alike, and trying to get all of our knowledge about how to teach well with puzzles down into the one volume. I think we pretty much succeeded. I’ve field-tested the material here at Universities, schools and businesses, with very good results across the board. We build on a good basis and we love sound practical advice. This is, very much, a book for the teaching coalface.

It’s great to finally have it all done and printed. The Springer team were really helpful and we’ve had a lot of patience from our commissioning editors as we discussed, argued and discussed again some of the best ways to put things into the written form. I can’t quite believe that we managed to get 350 pages down and done, even with all of the time that we had.

If you or your institution has a connection to SpringerLink then you can read it online as part of your subscription. Otherwise, if you’re keen, feel free to check out the preview on the home page and then you may find that there are a variety of prices available on the Web. I know how tight budgets are at the moment so, if you do feel like buying, please buy it at the best price for you. I’ve already had friends and colleagues ask what benefits me the most and the simple answer is “if people read it and find it useful”.

To end this disgraceful sales pitch, we’re actually quite happy to run workshops and the like, although we are currently split over two countries (sometimes three or even four), so some notice is always welcome.

That’s it, no more self-promotion to this extent until the next book!


Talking Ethics with the Terminator: Using Existing Student Experience to Drive Discussion

One of the big focuses at our University is the Small-Group Discovery Experience, an initiative from our overall strategy document, the Beacon of Enlightenment. You can read all of the details here, but the essence is that a small group of students and an experienced research academic meet regularly to start the students down the path of research, picking up skills in an active learning environment. In our school, I’ve run it twice as part of the professional ethics program. This second time around, I think it’s worth sharing what we did, as it seems to be working well.

Why ethics? Well, this is first year and it’s not all that easy to do research into Computing if you don’t have much foundation, but professional skills are part of our degree program so we looked at an exploration of ethics to build a foundation. We cover ethics in more detail in second and third year but it’s basically a quick “and this is ethics” lecture in first year that doesn’t give our students much room to explore the detail and, like many of the more intellectual topics we deal with, ethical understanding comes from contemplation and discussion – unless we just want to try to jam a badly fitting moral compass on to everyone and be done.

Ethical issues present the best way to talk about the area as an introduction as much of the formal terminology can be quite intimidating for students who regard themselves as CS majors or Engineers first, and may not even contemplate their role as moral philosophers. But real-world situations where ethical practice is more illuminating are often quite depressing and, from experience, sessions in medical ethics, and similar, rapidly close down discussion because it can be very upsetting. We took a different approach.

The essence of any good narrative is the tension that is generated from the conflict it contains and, in stories that revolve around artificial intelligence, robots and computers, this tension often comes from what are fundamentally ethical issues: the machine kills, the computer goes mad, the AI takes over the world. We decided to ask the students to find two works of fiction, from movies, TV shows, books and games, to look into the ethical situations contained in anything involving computers, AI and robots. Then we provided them with a short suggested list of 20 books and 20 movies to start from and let them go. Further guidance asked them to look into the active ethical agents in the story – who was doing what and what were the ethical issues?

I saw the students after they had submitted their two short paragraphs on this and I was absolutely blown out of the water by their informed, passionate and, above all, thoughtful answers to the questions. Debate kept breaking out on subtle points. The potted summary of ethics that I had given them (follow the rules, aim for good outcomes or be a good person – sorry, ethicists) provided enough detail for the students to identify issues in rule-based approaches, utilitarianism and virtue ethics, but I could then introduce terms to label what they had already done, as they were thinking about them.

I had 13 sessions with a total of 250 students and it was the most enjoyable teaching experience I’ve had all year. As follow-up, I asked the students to enter all of their thoughts on their entities of choice by rating their autonomy (freedom to act), responsibility (how much we could hold them to account) and perceived humanity, using a couple of examples to motivate a ranking system of 0-5. A toddler is completely free to act (5) and completely human (5) but can’t really be held responsible for much (0-1 depending on the toddler). An aircraft autopilot has no humanity or responsibility but it is completely autonomous when actually flying the plane – although it will disengage when things get too hard. A soldier obeying orders has an autonomy around 5. Keanu Reeves in the Matrix has a humanity of 4. At best.

They’ve now filled the database up with their thoughts and next week we’re going to discuss all of their 0-5 ratings as small groups, then place them on a giant timeline of achievements in literature, technology, AI and also listing major events such as wars, to see if we can explain why authors presented the work that they did. When did we start to regard machines as potentially human and what did the world seem like them to people who were there?

This was a lot of fun and, while it’s taken a little bit of setting up, this framework works well because students have seen quite a lot, the trick is just getting to think about with our ethical lens. Highly recommended.

What do you think, Arnold? (Image from

What do you think, Arnold? (Image from

Education and Paying Back (#AdelEd #CSER #DigitalTechnologies #acara #SAEdu)

On Monday, the Computer Science Education Research Group and Google (oh, like you need a link) will release their open on-line course to support F-6 Primary school teachers in teaching the new Digital Technologies curriculum. We are still taking registrations so please go the course website if you want to sign up – or just have a look! (I’ve blogged about this recently as part of Science meets Parliament but you can catch it again here.) The course is open, on-line and free, released under Creative Commons so that the only thing people can’t do is to try and charge for it. We’re very excited and it’s so close to happening, I can taste it!

Here’s that link again – please, sign up!

I’m posting today for a few reasons. If you are a primary school teacher who wants help teaching digital technologies, we’d love to see you sign up and join our community of hundreds of other people who are thinking the same thing. If you know a primary school teacher, or are a principal for a primary school, and think that this would interest people – please pass it on! We are most definitely not trying to teach teachers how to teach (apart from anything else, what presumption!) but we’re hoping that what we provide will make it easier for teachers to feel comfortable, confident and happy with the new DT curriculum requirements which will lead to better experiences all ’round.

My other reason is one that came to me as I was recording my introduction section for the on-line course. In that brief “Oh, what a surprise there’s a camera” segment, I note that I consider the role of my teachers to have been essential in getting me to where I am today. This is what I’d like to do today: explicitly name and thank a few of my teachers and hope that some of what we release on Monday goes towards paying back into the general educational community.

You know who this is for.

You know who this is for.

My first thanks go to Mrs Shand from my Infant School in England. I was an early reader and, in an open plan classroom, she managed to keep me up with the other material while dealing with the fact that I was a voracious reader who would disappear to read at the drop of a hat. She helped to amplify my passion for reading, instead of trying to control it. Thank you!

In Australia, I ran into three people who were crucial to my development. Adam West was interested in everything so Grade 5 was full of computers (my first computing experience) because he arranged to borrow one and put it into the classroom in 1978, German (I can still speak the German I learnt in that class) and he also allowed us to write with nib and ink pens if we wanted – which was the sneakiest way to get someone’s handwriting and tidiness to improve that I have ever seen. Thank you, Adam!  Mrs Lothian, the school librarian, also supported my reading habit and, after a while, all of the interesting books in the library often came through me very early on because I always returned them quickly and in good condition but this is where I was exposed to a whole world of interesting works: Nicholas Fisk, Ursula Le Guin and Susan Cooper not being the least of these. Thank you! Gloria Patullo (I hope I’ve spelt that correctly) was my Grade 7 teacher and she quickly worked out that I was a sneaky bugger on occasion and, without ever getting angry or raising a hand, managed to get me to realise that being clever didn’t mean that you could get away with everything and that being considerate and honest were the most important elements to alloy with smart. Thank you! (I was a pain for many years, dear reader, so this was a long process with much intervention.)

Moving to secondary school, I had a series of good teachers, all of whom tried to take the raw stuff of me and turn it into something that was happier, more useful and able to take that undirected energy in a more positive direction. I have to mention Ken Watson,  Glenn Mulvihill, Mrs Batten, Dr Murray Thompson, Peter Thomas, Dr Riceman, Dr Bob Holloway, Milton Haseloff (I still have fossa, -ae, [f], ditch, burned into my brain) and, of course, Geoffrey Bean, headmaster, strong advocate of the thinking approaches of Edward de Bono and firm believer in the importance of the strength one needs to defend those who are less strong. Thank you all for what you have done, because it’s far too much to list here without killing the reader: the support, the encouragement, the guidance, the freedom to try things while still keeping a close eye, the exposure to thinking and, on occasion, the simple act of sitting me down to get me to think about what the heck I was doing and where I was going. The fact that I now work with some of them, in their continuing work in secondary education, is a wonderful thing and a reminder that I cannot have been that terrible. (Let’s just assume that, shall we? Moving on – rapidly…)

Of course, it’s not just the primary and secondary school teachers who helped me but they are the ones I want to concentrate on today, because I believe that the freedom and opportunities we offer at University are wonderful but I realise that they are not yet available to everyone and it is only by valuing, supporting and developing primary and secondary school education and the teachers who work so hard to provide it that we can go further in the University sector. We are lucky enough to be a juncture where dedicated work towards the national curriculum (and ACARA must be mentioned for all the hard work that they have done) has married up with an Industry partner who wants us all to “get” computing (Thank you, Google, and thank you so much, Sally and Alan) at a time when our research group was able to be involved. I’m a small part of a very big group of people who care about what happens in our schools and, if you have children of that age, you’ve picked a great time to send them to school. 🙂

I am delighted to have even a small opportunity to offer something back into a community which has given me so much. I hope that what we have done is useful and I can’t wait for it to start.