Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Relocation of Journeys...

I am moving to new scenery 

thanks for the visit.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Educational  Philosophy and IT

If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

John Donne 1623 "Devotions upon Emergent Occasions"

It is clear that social connectedness is critical for our collective well being although we seem to manage to forget it so often. Donne said it best. We depend on cooperation and collaboration for organisation for survival, for growth, for intellectual stimulation and enjoyment. Community is an(the?) essential aim of education.  Education IS conversations. Started with Aristotle.

We do not know what we ought to be learning in 5, 10, 15 or more years ahead. We do know the key is deep learning or learning for UNDERSTANDING.*  Hence, learning how to learn is even more important than simply memorising material.  We know that understanding and the disciplines of knowledge are a critical entry point and we know that multi-disiplinary thinking and higher order thinking is essential for the information age of today.  We also know there are many ways to those learning ends not just standard class instruction.   These principles form a partial basis for revising the design of learning organisations and learning pathways.  We know we owe all souls the best education possible. 

Educators understand that a core educational issue in schools is that individual learning needs are more complex than how we structure our school learning.  Schools are standardised with factory type reproduction of teaching and learning. We know individuals learn in many different ways and yet we have largely routinised and standardised classes and teaching methods.  We are class focussed not student focussed: we can do better. Standardisation is necessary but it does not suit all learners, just most of them, Teachers simply can not deliver the time or effort that would successfully catch all of their learners.  

Our schools are not structured to deliver individualised learning plans and individualised learning enviroments or pathways that cater for multiple routes for progress through the educational sectors and through life.  In general, schools educate well for citizenship, morality and spiritual well being both at the individual and community level.  And in the main they succeed. Schools have many talented teachers and outstanding programmes that deliver great results: however at every school there are those that miss out through individual learning needs. Further where is the lively inquiry learning, the project based efforts or promotion of sheer intellectual curiosity? Where are the constructive learning relationships and where is the time to invest in the magic of teaching and learning?

There are many schools that cater for disadvantaged or difficult students and the results, in spite of the amazing dedication of the teachers,often through hardship, are not impressive. Women are invisible in some situations and respect is very absent let alone focussed learning activities. The challenge is to use available technologies to meet these individual needs in every school but especially where the local family or culture does not encourage or allow education. We have disruptive technologies available that can deliver learning to those who do not succeed conventionally. Schooling can be improved for all learners (including teachers!).**  There is a serious paradox here as this focus on individuals must not be at the cost of community building and well being! We must aim to educate for community through better services to individuals. One way of capturing this is to look at the idea of connectedness.

IT Advances and organisational and Cultural impacts

There have been amazing and rapid advances in technology with global impacts. Not just in computing power but also in rich amplifying capabilities in infrastructure via developments in architectures and processes. Information architecture, service oriented architecture, blade computing, cloud computing on top of the huge power of computers and in particular connected computers - i.e. the internet had brought huge changes to the business world.  The price drop in laptops, the rise of net books, the possibilities of being always connected with mobile broadband, the progress of open source (Moodle, Open Office document management, Google docs and mail, etc), wireless technologies@coffee shops and shopping centers all add up to vastly new experiences and possibilities. And so it goes.  

Web based collaboration and communication technologies are changing the way we do business, the way we learn (but not necessarily in schools). Social networking, blogs, instant messaging and visual tools such as digital media with shared access via flickr and other video sharing tools are allowing different forms of content creation and learning in addition to the basics of numeracy and literacy. Visual learning is growing - mindmaps, presentations and digital works can be collaboratively be created and shared online. Where as content creation was a specialist activity by professional artists, journalists, writers and others because of the cost of tools or production now it belongs to anyone with a laptop.  The essence of this is empowerment of individuals to connect in meaningful ways outside of traditional organisational means.  Here we can tap into ways of gaining social capital not just outside traditional organisations but within them as well if we approach it carefully.

We organise to get things into production e.g. schools, businesses, community groups or voluntary groups, politics or whatever.  When we incorporate we limit communications to officially approved channels and content.  The school system is an example of a controlled value chain from text books through curriculum to officially approved school systems. This is not entirely bad:however if there are those not well served by the structure then new ways are required.

These technologies we are speaking about are called "disruptive" as they allow organisation of efforts to occur outside of the normal commercial/organisational means at minimal cost.  We once had to use costly hardware and connections available at great expense to a few: now powerful hardware is available widely.  But is is not just boxes or things. It is the easy to use software tools that are freely available in surprising ways.  

The internet is roughly open and democratic. KM (Knowledge Management) in business has in the past worked to allow formal communities of experts to occur. This meant that sharing and collaboration could produce better results for business efficiency and the IP (Intellectual property).  Collaboration is a multiplier of intelligence and an essential part of human needs.  The strange thing is that this is now occurring outside of the "official channels"!  Teachers, for instance, can freely develop their own professional learning networks.  I can access the best practitioners who use twitter or blogs to gain help and support in my efforts in learning and technology. This is an example of disruptive technology. Here is a simple example of a formal process in KM being available to interested parties in a friendly and open manner. These technologies are allowing CONVERSATIONS to occur with access and participation freely available.

What does this suggest about schooling?  if we can assume the availability of the basics in classrooms, connectedness, devices, internet, wireless, maybe smartboards and maybe but not necessarily LMSs (learning management Systems) connectivity takes on new meanings.  Connect teacher to pupil, pupil to pupil, pupil in one class to pupil in another class, what about pupil to teacher in another class as well as teacher in one school to teacher in another. Getting creation of work and reflection going by use of blogs gets learners empowered and engaged and opens the possibility of feedback and collaboration.  Why cant we  let kids develop their own PLNs (Personal Learning networks)? 

There is still a conventional management role of demonstrating and coordinating "officially documented" learning in the formal manner we are familiar in our educational systems. This implies we rethink assessment: what does assessment mean in a collaborative context?  Business knowledge workers must collaborate and be assessed, so why cant we adapt to this new form of learning?  Moreover we could seek to organise schools on a modular rather than monolithic basic in order to innovate and foster learning.

Online learning raises other possibilities and issues in connectedness.  If we are correct about conversations, community and connectedness then it seems that an essential part of the experience of learning is social and hence inevitably (but not exclusively)  f2f (face to face).  It is the experience of relationship that gives the teacher-learner bond a possible special potential.  Any design with online learning and teaching must retain a healthy relationship between learners and their guides and hence furthering social capital and lasting community value.   Hence a hybrid solution of online and face to face is suggested as the way to maximise technology and learning.  That said, it is online learning systems and use of tracking possibilities of learning management systems that can allow individualised attention to a learner with their special and individual needs.  This may help us cope with the coming loss of many teachers as they retire as new ways of working can easily be established with out full time presence in schools.  And also the unreached: new structures could be found to help those who don't fit the standardised moulds. It may be possible to allow working professionals to be involved with learners on a sessional basis to leverage the expertise of those not in schools.  ( A cautionary tale is told by Tomaz Lasic in his blog )


There is much to learn for schools from the advances in technology and business methods and the many changes in society. We must not forget that any use of technology is a means to the ends of education and never the end in itself. We do not teach much about pencils we use them!

This quote best sums up the context within which we work. (from an amazing book which gives detailed analysis of new paradigms for learning and schooling.)

“To facilitate the outworking of the inherent potential embodied within every child, such that their uniqueness can change the world for the better via their active involvement in their community and their ability to be lifelong learners that are self assured; balancing confidence with humility and having the capacity to apply their  abilities with wisdom.”   Mark Treadwell "School V 2.0"

* Mark Treadwell "Schools V2.0"  is the best articulartion of the new paradigms I have read.

** I do not portray this as the MOST important problem of education there are far more important social problems see  Fiona Stanley on ABC "Risking our Kids" Tues 7th Oct 2008.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

What is happening to Organisations and what has it got to do with VET?

The VET sector is under pressure to meet new demands for the digital and online social and cultural realities of today. With an aging lecturer cohort, new industry work skills demands, skills shortages, and a more mobile australian population there is much pressure for improved results. Social networking and online services are forcing change in many businesses that we take for granted.  Newspaper circulation falling and journalists are wondering about their jobs as bloggers are beating the papers with news as it happens. The music industry is discovering people can create and share music without them.  Schools and universities are taking lessons online and allowing access from home while still retaining ownership of access.  Universities are freely  putting their lectures  on iTunesU. 

VET faces greater demands than it can satisfactorily meet: demands for multi-skilled workers ready for the workplace who dont necessarily want to complete a full course. They want just  the essential skills so as to get and perform in a  job and then maybe complete more as the situation allows.  We fund VET on completion of certification not on partial completion which is course completion. We have increased numbers of workers traveling across state boundaries but we have no means to track the skills acquisition at a cross state or at course completion level. TAFEs are state run and controlled. RTOs are independent organisations all with their own needs and agendas.

The bigger and older the organisation the harder it is to control and direct employees and respond to cultural changes.  The costly factory like bricks and mortar structures and standardised legalistic procedures inhibit innovation.  For instance in-spite of lack of support internally, teachers are starting to communicate, problem solve and organise themselves online using tools outside of the traditional ownership of their institutions.  With tools such as blogs. micro-blogs They are creating PLNs - Personal Learning networks to share and learn amongst professional peers.  This is an example of disruptive technologies enabling individuals to self organise and be productive outside the formal structures. This personal or individual learning gives us a clue as to what the technology can do for individuals.  If we can harness that capacity to tailor personal learning plans for student-learners and link them up with mentors and meaningfully track that learning we might create an improved learning experience that is consistent with all the standards and evidence the system requires.  The use of LMSs (learning management systems) at an institutional level is growing but not shared. That means with some creative innovation there is some hope for the future of greater transparency and equity of access to results at least if not to learning. The results of learning belong equally to the learner AND the certifying institution! We have no national mechanism other than paper to store our results.

Two glaring omissions, therefore, are the lack of national curriculum and the TOTAL lack of national tracking of training by individuals.  The first IS being worked on and with proper debate(in Australia? with the media? ha!) there just may be progress.  The second how ever.... well who knows? With two major sectors - state based VET and institution based private colleges, there is no means to meaningfully track results or quality for that matter from a Federal government perspective.  VET is one of the most hidden value chains that the Federal Gvernment tries to fund and manage. Most training e.g. defence and internal corporate, is not tracked and individuals find documentation of that skills acquisition difficult. We rob them of what is rightly theirs.

One step in the right direction would be a national learning system that tracks results, equity  and quality nationally.  The skills shortage remediation efforts could be more usefully understood, managed and innovated if we could gain visibility nationally and provide better opportunities for individuals to flexibly gain and document skills gained.  The technologies available, such as service oriented architecture, enterprise information architectures, data warehousing, ID management equity of access, remote and rural access and online teaching and learning could be utilised for productive innovation in a critical sector.  Effectively this would give a national asset, a national learning management system for all citizens.  This is the missing piece of VET education.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Technology and VET Part 1

Beyond all doubt the Vocational and Further education sector is a vital part of the skills development needs of Australia. it is also a strange balance of various management and research authorities, state governments, teacher unions, industry groups, private enterprises and lots of not very responsive and ancient, states managed bricks and mortar institutions and private colleges.

Funding and governance originates with the federal government through disbursements via COAG and other discrete and special projects funding arrangements. Enterprises and Defence tend to arrange their own extensive publicly unfunded training that goes quite below the radar of visibility of the sector in official statistics.

Monitoring and research about VET policy and initiatives is handled for the Government by academic institutions and specific authorities such as NCVER. Typically this is out of date by 12 to 24 months as there is no way to see anything even approximating real time data as there is no infrastructure at the moment for information gathering and sharing. That may change as DEEWR is starting a project to set data standards for the sector. This is a major defect in management of the sector as feedback for effectiveness of policy is necessarily lacking. How do we know that a policy is worth pursuing?

Initiatives such as learning management systems and online learning capabilities are supported by clearing house functions such as Australian Flexible Learning Framework and similar parallel initiatives in the states. It appears that the uptake of e learning is slowly increasing rising: increase has been fourfold over the last three years( but there is much room for improvement.

There is overwhelming evidence of individual initiatives using social networking tools like Twitter, blogs, flickr, brightkite, etc. These come about through teachers, with strong commitments to 21st century learning, exercising their own initiatives often against policies and security demands of authorities. They are vitally persuaded by the needs and opportunities of a communications equipped culture in which we are immersed. In particular, they are driven by the interests, the learning needs and capabilities of young learners. They are learning themselves in conversations with both others and the young digital learners and exploring these new possibilities for learning. There are some amazing stories emerging about the use of digital technologies not just in second life virtual realities but also in (superficially) unlikely places like stone masonry(cf. simon brown QLD vet in google). Connectedness is transforming learning opportunities. Getting apprentices online to show their talents and find opportunities is a new and amazing development. Why are we not using this connectedness in VET?

We are seeing some use of ePortfolios in VET (Swinburne TAFE) for skills capability recording. This is essential for RPL(recognition of Prior Learning) this is needed across state and institution boundaries. The technology is there why are we not exploring this nationally?

We are seeing an exciting growth of communities of practice quite unrestrained by formal organisational structures and commitments. There is an openness and commitment to sharing that has enormous potential to benefit our communities. This is quite a radical change from the formalised and structured and organisational learning of the past.

The lack of full use of online tools and e learning holds us back from creating the skills we desperately require to meet the changes in technology, in the economy, the skills shortage with an aging workforce and the needs of people who wish to gain more skills or wish to reenter the workforce. Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) is difficult and expensive to establish. This is a sore point for those wanting to reenter the workforce as gathering documentation is complex. Remote and rural populations are poory served by VET opportunities through lack of good online and broadband services. An example of this is the need for skills in mining areas remote from home and remote from study opportunities. This puts pressure on workers to get into the work force and not complete their certification, hence certification completion rates are falling. A further contributor to the falling completion rate is the need for multi-skilled workplace ready staff. Farmers want hands who can drive tractors, use GPSs, be aware of OH&S, who know how to handle pesticides and irrigation and a dozen other skills. Learners are wanting bits of courses rather than the whole certification and pathways are not flexible to allow for this need. And there is no national recording of skills acquisition.

There is something missing at the centre of the VET sector. Something that should hold the national VET enterprise together. Something that unifies the largely States based efforts of a critical contributor to Australian productivity. Something that can help us create flexible pathways for learning for all and recognise those skills. Something that gives any Australian citizen better access to VET opportunities.

Part 2: Initiatives of the Federal Government

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


I succumed now I have a blog...