TeachMeet is an informal gathering of those curious about teaching and technology. Anyone can share great ideas they’ve trialled in their classrooms, ask important questions or simply sign up to take part in learning conversations. Both Primary and Secondary teachers are welcome to take part in an informal and fun meeting. You can come along to chat, meet new people, or give a seven minute talk, a two minute nano presentation or lead a conversation.

Tim and Moby Explain

Teachmeet is a meeting of uh well Teachers. I’ll leave it to  Tim and Moby to explain further technical details. I’d like to know if you are interested in joining me make it happen. Date, Time Venue, Publicity etc?

Recipe for a connected educator

Give your teacher a computer, preferably a cheap one, install  software and other learning technologies and then when they complete your introductory course (with gold embossed certificate), reward their efforts with a voucher for a months free Internet connection. Simple – we’ve got a connected educator.

Or maybe not. I’ve set up a straw man proposal, and I’m kicking Aunt Sally around to make my point. Digitally effective teaching and learning is often hampered by access and resources. Computers break, software can be expensive, internet access (here in South Africa) is expensive and, most importantly, training for teachers that share the same interests, have the same skill levels or are interested in the same outcomes is seen as a “once off event”, not an ongoing process.

Don’t frame these problems as a Digital divide – the hassles we’ve mentioned are not a permanent. They are perceptual, temporary  or environmental. I call these problems digital dongas.  A technological ditch, caused by erosion of opportunities, experiences, skills, and knowledge. With attention, time and conversations with affected educational communities, this scarring can be stopped or maybe even repaired.

So if you are interested in getting teachers connected, stop the reductionalism. Solving issues of technological access will not create a connected teacher. The conversation needs to move forward to focus on the participation skills required for teachers to benefit from the technology. Find opportunities for teachers to contribute and to develop the their competencies and social skills needed for involvement. Recognise that each institution has a set of dongas and then begin working in collaboration with with schools and the teachers to bridge or start repairing the gaps. Remember though, bridging digital dongas is a process, not an event. A one-time teacher training workshop does not count as  effective professional development. Start thinking more about the teachers on-going, relevant professional development, and how you can support that process.


Phillipa and Ryan are a little puzzled

Frustrated students are starting to doubt the future of progress. For the past two weeks I’ve inflicted a Mobile code hunt on their them, in attempt to demonstrate that mobile phones have potential outside the walls of the classroom.  They’ve sat, squinted and swore for an hour trying to figure out how to download a QR code reader to their Mobile phones so that they could find the answers on a QR code.  This morning, of the 20 students, only one managed to download the reader (the other students phone models did not support the code or they had no air time). While it was clear that many students were adept at managing their phones and could work around a small screen, the problem of a common platform made me doubt the possibilities that mLearning holds for whole class learning. The range of different phone models makes it extremely difficult to supply instructions on how to configure the phone.

mLearning certainly holds enormous pedegogic and practical potential.  But whether the phone has the ability to act as “a classroom in your pocket” will depend on the degree of uniformity amongst phones. The wide variety of phones amongst students meant that nobody was able to assist each other, as each had a different phone. Background of the mobile phone owner will also play a part in their ability to master the tool. It was interesting to note that students that had some business or other experience beyond the classroom were able to make better use of their phone.

Ah well, back to the drawing board, more prototypes, more thought is required.

Personal Learning Networks

It's at the digital water cooler where I interact with and learn from other people. This is my PLN

It’s at the digital water cooler where I interact with and learn from other people. This is my PLN

“All of your knowledge won’t amount to much if you don’t have a network of people to share it with and enough compassion for the people in that network to understand that your success is a direct result of their success.”

Tim Sanders, Chief Solutions Officer at Yahoo

I’m in education because I want children/young adults/students/professionals to be able to think for themselves. I believe that I’m working to a point where the locus of control should rest within them. Yet, when it comes to my professional development needs, this locus usually resides with an obscure subcommittee that arranges meetings, invites a speakers, a lecturer or guru and assumes that the co-hort of attendees will learn, grow and return to our classroom inspired and “professionally developed”. What a silly notion.

A person that loves learning, is looking for guidance, wants wisdom, requires answers to questions and has experience to share does not need sit through presentation after presentation, discussion after discussion in order to become a better educator. Training programmes are not going to improve their teaching. A network of educated people that are willing to talk with other educated people is required, not a panel of presenters.

Managements’ obscure faith in officially sanctioned lectures, in-service training courses or educational conferences is being shaken by free-form, dialogic user centred learning concept called a Personal Learning Network (PLN). Skeptics of top down training programmes are using the Social Networking and Web 2.0 Technologies to create an alternative platform to communicate, accept and dole out advice, coach and be coached and interact with a huge range of interesting people. Sharing and social applications on the ‘net have facilitated user-centered learning opportunities, where the training agenda is made up by the attendees, not the speaker.

So if you are tired of being told what meetings, conferences, INSET days you should attend, but are interested in engaging with similarly minded professionals (in a mediated public space), if you are comfortable with being part of a community and are looking for some form of mentoring or coaching, then maybe you’ll be interested in developing your own Personal Learning Network. Search Twitter for the term “My PLN”, and you’ll find thousands of people using electronic tools to connect with and share their knowledge. Or join me, and my AV / Ed Tech class and create a digital identity where we can explore new ways of learning in an unplace, where control rests with the teacher, not the talker. Expect peer to peer learning, some social engagement and reflective thinking. Who knows where this conversation will take us.

Twitter from Higher down to Primary Education

Some thoroughly confused PGCE students of mine have admitted that they just “don’t get Twitter“. That’s fine. Your confusion over Twitter is shared by many. Media literacies are determined by our social identities. We start reading books because we see others reading. We get an e-mail address because other people want to contact us. We work out predictive text because we’d like to respond quickly to others SMS. If your connections are limited to email and texting, and you don’t want another “web-borne intrusion“, you’ll have a lot more time for marking, lesson planning and other important teacher activities.

If your reason for not understanding Twitter is that you can’t understand how a teacher might find Twitter useful, then the slide share below looks at examples of how some education institutions are using Twitter.

Although some South African Universities are on Twitter, fewer teachers or schools that have gone the Twitter route. Innovation fatigue, “digital dongas” or principled opposition to social media (i.e. this is a teenage fad) have been cited as reasons for non participation. I however think that the real reason is simply that other South African teachers are not using it. I’m the Twit that’s in the minority. But stick with me (and Twitter). I’m hoping to introduce you to a concept called a Personal Learning Network. Soon you’ll see that Twitter is part of a bigger picture, and its usefulness is better experienced than explained.

Modelling Technology

Motivational speakers usually don’t impress me. Brought in by a well meaning leader, the “You can make a difference” inspirational monologue, usually leaves me more dispirited than before. “Do what I’m doing, stand in my shoes for a week, and then make this speech”, has always been my internal mantra to their 20 minute routine.

Computer experts with “solutions”, in the same way, also often leave me cold. Listening to another well practiced pitch that explains how this new technology “…will revolutionize your classroom…” leaves me equally skeptical. “Experts”, I think, need to install the package on the school network, model the technology to teachers and students, make it available for staff to play and experiment. Then, if it works, you will inspire.

My best learning has been when I’ve had time to explore, play and interact with an expert that takes the time to go beyond teaching and models (and expects) best practices. Wesley Fryer is such an expert. Instead of opting for the the motivational approach, and delivering great lectures on technology use, the “expert” has set out explicitly how he intends to model appropriate uses of the technology to the class.

This approach inspires me. It allow me to see how the others are playing, experimenting and designing teaching and learning activities for other classes. I know that as I start climbing another steep learning curve, my inexperience with new programs, my confused explorations with new websites can be mediated by another , who has stood in my shoes, and is able to empathize with my position, and offer me examples and assistance.

My class this year are also going to be learning about ICT and how they can integrate it into their teaching. I’m “the expert” this time, and it’s likely that I’ll sound like the motivational speaker. To ameliorate any dispirited feelings, I intend to model good technology use to the class. I’m going to focus on

  • Collaborative learning
  • Acting as a networked sherpa
  • Engaging in reflective thinking about my teaching practice
  • Having fun

with them.
I know that the route to computer competency is littered with well intended courses, certificates and experts. I’m hoping that a bit of explicit modeling might create some engaged learning. Subscribe to this blog and I’ll keep you posted.

Pecha Kucha Pietermaritzburg?

Pecha Kucha, Japanese for “chit-chat”, is a presentation format that combines business meeting and slam poetry and turns endless Power Point presentations into an art form and a competitive sport.

Initially introduced by Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham, two Architects from Tokyo’s Klein-Dytham Architecture that were hosting an event for young designers to meet, network, and show their work in public, this simple presentation format has become a world wide phenomena.

A Pecha Kucha presentation consists of 20 images, each displayed for 20 seconds, and then transitioned automatically to the next. At the the cut off point, the presentation is complete and the presenter stands down. This is a short, focused presentation that should, if rules are observed, take no longer than 6 min 40 secs.

In South Africa the idea has grown in popularity and regular evening are held and planned for Durban and Cape Town. A typical Pecha Kucha Night hosts 8 to 14 presenters. Presenters (and much of the audience) are usually from a range of academic and creative fields. Here, an audience can look forward to a tightly focused collection of images and words on subjects as diverse as tea towel design to teaching, cartooning to cartography.

Pietermaritzburg, sadly, still hasn’t heard of the phenomena. If you think that you can match words and images in a six minutes and 40 seconds  elevator pitch, or are interested in assisting creating a platform to watch others “transform corporate cliché into surprisingly compelling beat-the-clock performance art” – then please get in touch and let’s make such an event happen in our small city.

Linking spaces to information


I’ve accessed my blog via my phone’s camera using this QR code. And while this sounds impossibly complicated, I’ve just learned how this works in the last half an hour.

QR codes combine simple creation with easy access to QR code readers. Create the code using a QR-Code Generator and then point your mobile phone code reader (you will probably need to download an appropriate one) and voila – with a cashier like scan the QR reader will beep and a message should appear that points you to the encoded destination. Much like any other scanner, a QR reader recognizes the QR image, and responds appropriately.

There’s a buzz about Augmented Reality applications on Android and iPhones. But for those of us with dinosaurs, we can also participate (to a limited degree) in this spaces to information hype. Apart from better echos, I’d like to see QR codes being used alongside a sign in a museum, garden or gallery to give more information about the item. A QR code could be included by a teacher at the end of a presentation, set of notes or round the classroom, that would lead into a class activity.

QR codes “support experiential learning, bringing scholarship out of the classroom and into physical experience” ( things you should know about QR Codes ). While the Desktop brought multi media into the classroom, mobile phones (and other smart devices) are taking the classroom into the world and reconfiguring the way that we can incorporate media into our teaching. Start looking for QR codes on shoe adverts, scooter posters , buildings, out in the wild or even on your bookshelf.

Starting with the end

I’ve always found it useful to start a course with the end product in mind. I also wanted to communicate that the Ed Tech course that I was introducing would be hands on (both behind the computer and at the desks). So I spent a good few hours groveling around the web, looking for a nice introduction. Stumbled across Life Hacker’s post on making a DIY paper pop up CD case which had a Chung Da Lam teaching how to fold a CD case. Neat – but too advanced for me. But the comments had some useful suggestions and with help from Wake1080 I created a template for students to store their portfolio CDs in.

The template also divided the class into groups and allowed them to store important information about their accounts. Take a look and tell me if it works for you.