Congratulations to all the Qatar Academy teachers for their sterling work through the SUNY COETAIL (Certificate of Educational technology and Information literacy) over the past two years. Their work can be viewed through There is is much that educators can draw from this work.
The first Student-Led Conferences which focused on student eportfolios and their IB learning was a stunning success. Around 90% of Grade 6 through 8 parents made time to attend and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Students not only took pride in discussing their learning, they also spoke with authority on their understanding of IB Areas of Interaction and Learner Profile. They also provided ample evidence of how they are developing and applying such learning. This forms a strong basis for further development as independent, academic learners.
Well done to all teachers, administrators and students on their contributions as a true learning community.
Recently ThinkLab has been involved in working with Grade 8 students on using Photoshop as a general creative digital tool. Apart from their increased capacity to effectively take on higher-order tools / function, such as those provided through Photoshop and Flash, what struck me was the use of support documents. Previously students would use a paper adjunct to go through required steps. This time students had a choice of paper or video (Through Atomic Learning). Practically none chose paper, some made use of Atomic Learning, and most took my one demonstration (of the Burn and Dodge Tool) to experiment with its capabilities.
This movement away from any need for paper support was also evident when we worked with students on presenting their learning through use of word documentation. They preferred to highlight, snapshot, move, insert and organise all their information digitally.
This apparent move to a briccolage approach even for advanced packages means we have to possibly re-think our approach to skill development in such areas (particularly also when there is likely to be advanced expertise in the room where students have taken upon themselves to develop advanced skills).
This has not only environmental implications, but also for how information can be presented and processed.
Other issues to come out of our Photoshop 'explorations' include the increased engagement of boys in art through the increased capacity to 'touch-up' over than having to re-start.
Finally an interesting theoretical consideration is whether we are teaching and learning with such advanced packages in appropriate ways. Jonah Lehrer talks about the differences between knowing where to look (with confidence) versus preference for lock-step support reference materials. The former links to trial and error approaches where powerful schemas and learning refinements based on learning from mistakes can occur. Too much of the latter may well be indicative of learning shortcomings in the digital age. What then for those who digitally work purely from lock-step? Lehrer talks about possible negative responses that can arise, such as choking (explicit learning shortfall) or panic (implicit learning shortfall). We need to be aware and ready for such eventuations.
After twenty years using educational technologies in schools is the learning value of such use clear? We are discussing and clarifying this question and would appreciate any and all views on the matter.

As a starting point, the following list is provided
  • Developing independent choice and use for learning
    eg    Digital Toolkit / PLN
            Learning Online
  • Response to rich tasks that are authentic and of personal value
  • Higher-Order Thinking
    (such as meta-cognition, adaptability, planning etc)
  • Constructing a visible learning journey
    (part Window, part Mirror, part Home)
  • New Digital Learning
    (such as      Information Literacy (Searching)
                        Presenting with Media
                        Visual-Abstract (eg Flash)
                        Digital problem-solving
                        Digital Citizenship)
  • Work Skills                                   
    (such as       managing time
                         meeting deadlines
                         collaborative group work
                         digital communications)
ThinkLab seeks to provide clear, understandable, practical answers to this fundamental question. Please join us.
 In mid February I attended the 21st Century Learning Conference at West Island School in Hong Kong. It was a well run and well patronized conference designed for teachers and school leaders. Everything from dig tools for school leaders, to changing learning dynamics, to examples teachers could take to their classrooms was showcased.

Keynote speakers were Stephen Heppell and David Warlick. As can be seen from the following quotes, they are very much into the changing dynamics of learning and teaching:
  • “our business should be making students future ready …. Not about the shoulders but the team” (David Warlick)
  • “21stC learning is about value of questions asked and accepting failure as part of the process… purpose of school too often to not get caught being wrong” (DW)
  • “21stC teacher must be a master learner” (DW)
  • “ problem of /met before’ learning; only good for ‘met before problems’” (Stephen Heppell) 
  • “assessment is now about whether it works or not” (SH)
  • “there is no cap on how far children can go” (SH)
Highlights on the conference included
  • School visits which enabled comparison to approaches in comparable schools
  • 10 Tech Tools PD session by Tim Carroll (Vice Principal of Show Tin College) who reported on a Moodle-based pd approach to Web 2 tool use for teacher development
  • Stephen Heppell’s report on his BVA (Being Very Afraid) student annual showcasing of student digital work.  
  • The opportunity to present to and discuss with the Leadership stream on Strengthening the 21st Century Learning Fabric in a school. See a webcast intro here
Issues to consider included
  •   David Warlick’s keynote on new relationships with content points to need to move beyond traditional perceptions of content value
  • Importance of maintaining and progressing student voice and active involvement in digital learning and IB curriculum
  • Schools at a wide variance re 1:1 laptops. No “best way”. Should be seen a journey towards an undisclosed future. But inevitable that new relationships, requirements and opportunities for valued learning are appearing and will appear as journey proceeds
  • Consideration of Specialist and Generalist teaching / learning spaces. Are 1:1 a general tool or incorporating specialist tools. If latter, where does teacher specialisation come from? Is there a need for dedicated technology spaces with specialist teachers?

ThinkLab is currently involved in three inter-connected developments
  1. The 21st Century Learning Conference in Hong Kong (17-19 Feb)
  2. Student eportfolio leading into April Student-Parent conferencing on their development as learners
  3. Developing with subject departments a map of tasks that build on what can be obtained from a 1:1 learning environment
What connects these is the importance of shared, inclusive connections between teachers, school decision makers, and students as co-partners in learning.
The ThinkLab presentation at the conference reflects this through highlighting possible ways forward to strengthen a schools learning fabric. Ways that include
  • Real, Quantifiable Digital Learning Objectives
  • Horizontal teacher learning leadership groups
  • Teacher Learning approaches on par with resourcing
  • Connected Teacher Learning Plans
  • Flattened Review structures
  • Integrated student-teacher working relationships
  • Use of virtual communication, sharing communities, action teams
  • Structures that embed vision in a fast changing world
  • Online media learning strategy
Does you strategy for the future consider any of these to be of value, or do you have others to add. Your connected input would be appreciate
At our weekly teacher digital learning get together we conducted a social debate on the question: what balance should schools seek in their use of educational technologies? The three sides were (1) not enough use is being made of such technologies (2) there is too much use of digital technologies, and (3) the balance is just right. Observations that emerged included
  • that is was easier to argue that there is too much use based on teacher observations of inappropriate uses
  • that it was more difficult to argue for more use as it needed to promote unknowns and could be side-tracked from learning issues into this or that technology
  • that the current balance is but a point of time in fast-changing times that need constant re-evaluation
  • there was general agreement that the inclusion, active involvement of supported and respected teachers was integral to any worthwhile changes that might be contemplated being of optimal value.
Another interesting point is that the debate arose from issues raised by teachers through the VLE Moodle forum and from online readings. The exercise was credited with being a good example of how good learning can be achieved by working digital learning with face-to-face learning interactions. One teacher posted a record to the Moodle for those teachers who were otherwise occupied.
The value of 1:1 for learning is a topical and potentially critical issue for any school. A good insight into value, values and issues can be found in M. Dunleavy, S. Dexter, W.F. Heinecke (2007) What added value does a 1:1 student to laptop ratio bring to technology-supported teaching and learning?
ThinkLab is involved in translating some of this into action. This includes creating a curriculum bank of tasks that display characteristics of a good task / project for learning in a 1:1 environment? Such characteristics can involve:
  1. Student ownership of and responsibility through active involvement in their learning
  2. Building on students prior skills and understanding
  3. Digital learning value (in accessing, processing, organizing, communicating information across media = beyond “use Powerpoint, Word and/or Web info”)
  4. Availability of student work beyond purely to teacher (such as student eportfolios)
  5. Academic integrity
  6. Learning integrity (in that all students can benefit from the task / project)
  7. Support for “21st Century learning” objectives: collaboration, creativity, information fluency, problem solving, digital citizenship, technology concepts
  8.  Use of digital learning environments that support individual cognitive development (eg Mathletics, Online Help or tutorials)
  9. Development of communities of learners
  10. Formative assessments that support deep learning

We would be interested in your comments or additions.
Welcome back to the New Year.

Here at ThinkLab we have been working with teachers through a formal Masters program (provided through the State University of New York: Buffalo) to raise their expertise, understanding, and most important of all, their leadership in all things edtech.
This week the teachers will be presenting to their fellow teacher/students their area of interest. This will be based around the questions
  •   What educational technology area? (learning focus)
  • Why is this worthwhile pursuing?
    What research question? (clear)
    How will you address the question?
    How will you demonstrate classroom learning value?
    Why will this will be able to be justified as “best practice’
    How will this fit into and connect with the bigger picture of school and ed system objectives
In future weeks each teacher will conduct a review of literature, provide a workshop for teachers across the school, and report on best practices now, and going into the future.
Check out the Teachers links for the list of interest areas.
Exciting times all round.
One of the pillars of ThinkLab is that students should be included and valued in every aspect of a school's approach to digital learning. This has seen a student support group (known as 'Fanar' or 'Lighthouse') developed to provide support across areas as diverse as decision-making, teacher professional learning, and at-hand classroom support for students and teachers. Communication is facilitated through a Virtual Learning Environment, Moodle.
Last week a new section was added. As part of the Grade 8 Technology course on Emerging Technologies a group of students created a 'Mac-gang' group to support the educational use of the 1:1 Macs. Part of this is a web site where students keep the school community informed on latest technology developments. Topical news includes RemoteViewer and Firesheep/Balcksheep. Check out the blog here or through the STUDENTS ThinkLabTab. Well done guys