Welcome to my adventure. I love learning and growing through the process. Life is certainly a kaliedescope of experiences. We can choose to crumble under them or become just a little wiser. Journey Through Learning is a blog about just that - a journey, my journey. A journey is always more enjoyable with company - want to join me?
After a sleepless night of waking up and checking the clock
to see ‘is it time yet?’ I excitedly made my way into Google Sydney, ready to
embark on an incredible experience. As I crossed the Harbour Bridge I thought
of all the people who had travelled 1000’s of kilometres to be here. The sun
turned a sleeping city into a maze of glinting buildings. In the funky suburb
of Haymarket gathered a group of people with the commonality of innovation,
education and collaboration. The excitement was tangible. The anticipation made
us all nervous.
Hello Google Teachers Academy Sydney 2013.
Google Teachers Academy Sydney Cohort 2013
What a humbling and inspiring experience. Humbling to be
selected to be amongst so many professional and inspirational educators, not to
mention the amazing Googlers who gave up their time to share insights into
their world and encourage us to ‘share the love’ of what we would learn with
those around us. Inspiring because we had a taste of how we can change the
world – a little bit at a time. I’ll expand on this a little later.
The two main questions I have been asked about GTA are:
“What is the GTA?” and “What cool things did you learn
The formal answer to the first question is:
“The Google Teacher Academy is a two-day intensive program
that recognizes educators who are doing innovative and exciting things in their
classrooms with technology. 50 participants will get hands-on experience with
Google's products and technologies, learn about innovative instructional
strategies, and receive resources to share with colleagues. Upon completion,
Academy participants become Google Certified Teachers who share what they learn
with other K-12 educators in their local regions and beyond.”
In practice it is so much more. Imagine 50 educators coming together hungry to
learn, collaborate, be challenged and change the world they are a part of….in
short 52 participants reach 32,727 students. If we ‘share the love’ of what we
have learned at GTA, we then reach a staggering 40,311 teachers and
Team Tesla hard at work
turn affect 1,410,885 students world-wide. Big things are possible…especially
when you are a part of a team. A typical day in the GTA looks like a non-stop
brain workout – just what I love! From the moment you sit down to breakfast,
the conversations don’t stop. Every session is filled with sharing of ideas
which can make a difference in education, new ideas, things that have worked,
collaborative problem solving, experimentation with new tools, critiquing of
ideas within a culture of respect and support, dreaming big and gratitude for
such an amazing experience.
In answer to the second question: “What cool things did you
Too many to mention (I will complete another blog post on
some of the amazing apps we explored)but after the realisation, where I thought
I knew a bit a bit Google Apps for Education, I quickly realised I have only experienced
the ‘tip of the iceberg’. you can choose to be daunted by that or you can
embrace it and set yourself up an action plan of how to go further, deeper and
wider…I’m going with the second option.
I loved hearing from the Googlers who gave us valuable insights
into the way Google works. Lucinda Barlow gave us a run down about Google’s
innovation principles - focus on the user, open will win, ideas come from
everywhere, think big, start small, Fail fast, launch early and iterate, be a
platform, float all boats, make it matter. How true are these principles in
education. I’ll leave that one to you to mull over as I could write a thesis on
how this looks in the classroom.
Another aspect which resonated with me was Moonshot thinking
(follow this link to see
the YouTube clip) – Basically Moonshot thinking is about taking “proposals that
address a huge problem, suggest a radical solution that could work, and use
some form of breakthrough technology to make it happen” (see solve-for-x blogor their website for more info). This kind of thinking is
all about innovation and the open mindset – it requires resilience, creativity,
communication, collaboration and all the skills we know are important to
develop in our students. Believe you can make a difference in the world and you
One of the most striking features of the event was instant community.
This was incredible. I knew only one person before I attended GTA – Chris
Betcher who was one of the amazing Lead Teachers
One of the collaborative spaces
at the event. I have come away
now knowing that if I were to ask a question or ask for support from the GCT (Google
Certified Teacher) community, that any one of those 800+ people would willingly
help out. There were some people attending the academy that I follow on
Twitter, subscribe to their blogs, read their work and whom I think are pretty ‘big’
in the education world…you know, those ones that you say under your breath “Wow,
that’s *insert guru educator here*” and award them movie star status. I came away from the Academy appreciate
of those ‘movie star’ status people who tirelessly share their ideas, are
passionate about shifting education and about making a difference in their
If I leave GTA as a GCT(Google Certified Teacher) and rave
about how wonderful it was yet do nothing with it, then I waste the opportunity
to make a difference. Hello action plan! This is the next part of where we go
I do believe in making a difference in my
world. I may not make headlines and I may not change the whole world but what
if I make a difference in the world of my students and equip them with what it
takes to make a difference in the world they are a part of? What if I equip/support
a whole ‘bunch’ of teachers with skills, resources and thinking that then has
an impact on all the students they come into contact with? You do the math –
that’s a whole lot of people that we ‘share the love’ with. I may not change
the whole world but I sure can make a difference.
I received an email this week congratulating me on being selected to attend the Sydney Google Teacher Academy in Sydney. I had to re-read the email several times to actually let it sink in that I had been selected. What an opportunity.
What is the Google Teacher Academy (GTA) - pobably best to quote directly from their site
"The GTA is a FREE professional development experience designed to help primary and
secondary educators from around the globe get the most from innovative technologies.
Produced by CUE, each Academy is an intensive, two-day event
during which participants get hands-on experience with Google's free products and
other technologies, learn about innovative instructional strategies, receive
resources to share with colleagues, and immerse themselves in a supportive community
of educators making impact." Google in Education
Applying for these opportunities can be rather intense but also very worthwhile. I completed the individual qualification exams (6 exams which comprehensively asses your knowledge of Google Apps for Education). These were certainly challenging but each exam has a training module that if you work through, give you a wealth of information which opens up so many ideas and resources which you can use in the classroom. I'm not an exam lover but the process certainly whet my appetite to explore Google Apps further to see how I could best apply these apps to develop deep learning experiences for the students I work with.
After I completed the exams, my attention turned to the application form accompanied by a 1 minute video. After wrestling with word limits and time restrictions I pressed submit!
My thought processes over the ensuing days as I awaited word of acceptance or other:
Exams are hard
If I didn't get in I was so appreciative for the new knowledge of Google Apps which I could apply to teaching immediately
I need to keep learning as I learn with my students
If my application was successful, I would bring back amazing resources that I could share with my colleagues and wider teaching community - this is truly exciting
I love that one of the foci on the application was to take this knowledge back and share it with as many people as possible - spread the love
I was so appreciative of the support and encouragement from fellow applicants who took time to write encouragement on Twitter and YouTube - what an amazing way to connect
My husband is an amazing person who wholeheartedly encourages me in everything(including apply for GTA) and who I love having constant discussions about pedagogy, learning, education, philosophy and life with. Thank you Chris Woldhuis ( can recommend following @cwoldhuis on Twitter - an amazing thinker in Education)
I look forward to sharing what I learn with you - I'm busting to get there and am exploding with excitement. Sometimes you just have to jump in with both feet and give it a go. The journey can be bumpy but worth it.
This speech in this video was written by Jemma, a 10 year old student, who gave her perspective on learning at a recent StudentMeet held at Shore this year. Jemma wrote this speech on her own and gave valuable insights about what it is like 'on the other side'.
Many other students presented at this inaugural StudentMeet. It was amazing to see the commonality between each of the presentations. Students wanted to connect with each other, connect with their world, be trusted and don't mind hard work. I was so impressed with the willingness of outstanding young men and women to share with teachers what works and what doesn't.
I was equally impressed with the teachers who came along to learn how they can strengthen their pedagogy to make learning and engaging and deep experience for the students in their care.
I look forward to further StudentMeets and also TeachMeets where professionals come together to share what is working in their environment and support each other in improving the educational outcomes for all involved.
Enjoy...and yes, I am proud Mum of a certain 10 year old!
A personal goal this year has been to challenge myself to change the way I teach from a 'chalk and talk' scenario to a more student centered, collaborative approach. If I want to develop the well debated 21st Century skills in the students I work with then I need to give them the opportunity to do so. I am trying to move towards a more project based approach. I'm also trying to offer opportunities for differentiation.
Today I started to see the epic wins in the students I have the pleasure of sharing a classroom with. We are working on Claymations. Interestingly, we haven't even touched the clay as yet...we've been building the story and script with a lot of attention to detail. Interestingly, the students were the most engaged I've seen them and boy am I proud of them.
What is different?
Firstly, the students are building their scripts collaboratively using Google docs. We noticed that students were not discussing things as much when we taught them how to use Google docs.
By suggesting the students take on different roles within their groups, the magic started to appear.
The 'script writers' are calling across the table to the 'researchers' to try and find some more detail on the main pollutants in Antarctica as they needed to move onto writing the next scene. The 'Props' coordinator had a table being drawn up further down the Google doc as they discussed the various pieces of equipment they needed. The 'director' was checking the story board that everything was being included and ensuring the detail was added to the script.
I move from group to group listening to their discussion - not saying anything, just listening. I'm there if they need to ask. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't. When I recognise a stalemate, I offer an alternative. The group takes off again and I move to the next group. Ownership of the task is theirs.
A squeal of delight from the back corner of the room - "Mrs W is writing on our script!" I had requested access to each groups' Google doc so I could give them feedback. Their class teacher was doing the same thing. The kids loved that they could see we were interested in what they were doing. They loved that they could fix areas that needed attention as they went. They thought it was cool - so did I!
Giggling. Learning should be fun. I investigate the giggling. A student from one of the groups was away from school today. Actually, she was collaborating on the script using Google doc with her group from home! She was excited to be learning and working through choice. I asked her group to write and say hello from me. I smiled.
Time is up - the kids don't want to stop. I don't want to stop but recess beckons.
But wait, there is more. Differentiation is so important. How can we ensure that kids have an opportunity to expand their learning - I opened up the opportunity to build a collaborative website on resources to do with Claymation and video editing. Is it compulsory? No. Is it part of their mark? No. Is it engaging? Considering the more able students have already added resources to it in their own time and that the students who struggled with adding the resource have emailed me the links they have found because 'they really want to contribute to the site', I would say a big Yes. The added benefit is that all students have access to this new resource site which benefits all students regardless of ability.
Is collaboration, differentiation and integrating technology hard?
No, not really, with the right tools and being willing to step off the stage, it can be really rewarding and enriching for everyone involved.
The final part of our journey along exploring effective online pedagogy is to submit a reflective journal. Very difficult to condense half a year into 1000 words. The identification of a topic of interest and preparation of a literature review
Whilst I am pleased with my literature review, I found it a task I had to invest an enormous amount of time developing. A literature review requires you to pool a large amount of well-founded information into a single document. It also benefits from extensive knowledge about a topic in order to draw out the deeper thinking and ideas. I did not have this extensive knowledge on which to build – it was a double learning curve.
The topic settled on was “Blended Learning can lead to improved student outcomes”. I teach in a blended learning environment. I wanted to investigate the merits of focusing on pedagogy, transforming the learning in order to shift culture in my environment.
My review justified a move forward. The shift was from broadly stating that there needed to be a shift in pedagogy if we are to improve student outcomes to a focus on the elements that define pedagogical shift. Some of these elements included – clear standards, methods of assessment, professional development, construction of a model of online course development which utilises the 4 phases of COI and effective use of teaching presence. The modules towards the end of the course would have assisted in developing issues in my review.
Your experience preparing and facilitating the learning event
Garrison and Anderson (2003) formed the basis of the construction of this event. It was important to use the categories of social presence to break down barriers of alienation in an online environment and how that can encourage participants to engage in higher order thinking and deeper level of discussion and analysis of material in Communities of Inquiry.
Critical Thought 1: When we design online courses, what is our focus - are we content focused or learner focused?
Digital Stories were chosen to link with current teaching scenario. The task was significantly more difficult than necessary. Many hours were spent researching topics, collaboration tools and in developing a strategy to apply the elements of online pedagogy. Too many hours it would seem.
Critical Thought 2 - Is this how students feel on a regular basis when they are given an assignment? I need to ensure that outcomes and purpose of the assignment are clear.
A few points I've learnt are:
• select activities that are engaging and sustaining
• constructing thought provoking questions is incredibly challenging
• digital stories have many layers of application, across fields I could never imagine linking to.
• it is essential to get to know your students well in order to cater for different background experiences and in planning effective events for learning
• teacher online presence and e-moderating is critical but it is an art not to stifle discussion
• Similarly, it is an art to ask questions which promote deeper analysis and thinking
• It requires a high level of management strategies as a facilitator to maintain momentum and interest and keep a sense of perspective
• More teacher presence is required at the conclusion of the event in order to bring the participants cognitive journey to a meaningful climax.
• Social presence featured as a strength of the event but using timeframes would have clarified participants level of interaction and allow the inclusion of more research based tasks to facilitate deeper learning in the exploration and integration phases of the event.
Your experiences participating in learning events
I participated in 2 events. The first, a discussion of Facebook and its place in the classroom. I found the ‘chat’ engaging and interesting but comments were opinion based not reflecting deeper reflection and research. I gained many insights into the value of a highly structured event that follows the 4 phases of the practical enquiry model – as did “Captain, Oh my Captain”. However, the time invested by the facilitator was huge and unreasonable in a real context. Not only his, but very time consuming for the participant and inflexible. Sample summary comments for the second event are relevant here:
“You drew us in personally with videos, with stories and with commenting deeply on our responses. You then took us to the next level of learning - finding research, applying it and now summarising.”
“I don't think I fully 'believed' in the steps and process of online learning until this event. I will make changes to improve the learning outcomes for my students. Again, another shift in my pedagogy - student focused learning, not teacher focused.”
Your experiences in planning for further events
I prepared for the second online event by summarising all the course information regarding online pedagogy. The important aspects are; preparation, timing of activities, exploration, interaction and synthesis of the information learned, creating engagement, trust, delving deeper, promoting new search queries and critically analysing. I included the initial aspects of the Practical Inquiry Model (Garrison & Anderson, 2003). The process then moved to exploration of the material presented, testing out student thoughts and ideas. The integration phase where various research ideas are brought together and then higher order thinking skills applied in to order to build ideas and extend thinking. Resolution being the final stage sees participants firming up the ideas they thrashed about into formalised ideas and resolutions.
I felt my second event is even closer to the right recipe than my first. It involved more planning but this time it was directed at exploring content more deeply and facilitating from the back seat. There is no winning recipe. It requires hard work, careful planning, professional development, feedback, willingness to learn, clear goals/outcomes for learners, trust, accountability, collaboration, effective facilitation, discussion, investing time in people, an open minded attitude and expertise on relevant topics.
Is it worthwhile? Absolutely.
Garrison, D. R., & Anderson, T. (2003). E-learning in the 21st century: a framework for research and practice. New York: Routledge Falmer.
Ahh the quest for knowledge. We open up the mind, we fill it up with good stuff. We define what it all means and label it. We reshape what it looks like and then relabel it again. We explore a deeper level of it and then find the winning recipe. We shut the lid. Or do we? Hopefully not.
I do find learning all about teacher presence, cognitive presence, social presence all very interesting in the context of online learning. I question if it is different to a face to face context. Some yes, some no. I do love the notion that teacher presence in online learning is not about how much the teacher responds to the online participants. It is about a lot more. It's the whole package. The preparation, the timing of activities, exploration, interaction and synthesis of the information learned. Yet, wait...there is more. It is about creating engagement, trust, delving deeper, promoting new search queries and critically analysing that. Psyched out yet? We have Communities of Inquiry where people come together to explore their ideas. There is still more, there are the different phases of how to do all of this - such as in the Practical Inquiry Model (Garrison & Anderson, 2003) where we the phases consist of triggering if the event or start of learning and engage learners. They then move to exploration of the material presented, testing out their thoughts and ideas. An effective online facilitator will move participants to the phase of integration where various research ideas are brought together, higher order thinking skills applied in to order to build ideas and extend thinking. Resolution being the final stage sees participants firming up the ideas they thrashed about into formalised ideas and resolutions.
What an enormous task to get it right! Do it well and you have engaged, enthused, active learners collaborating together and feeling good about the process. Do it poorly and learners disengage, become frustrated and don't share the full benefit. Online learning is reliant on effective teacher presence bringing in social and cognitive presence. How do we achieve that and develop excellent online pedagogy? There is no winning recipe but it does require hard work, careful planning, professional development, feedback, willingness to learn, clear goals and desired outcomes for learners, trust, accountability, collaboration, effective facilitation, discussion, investment of time in people, open minded attitude and a certain level of being an expert on relevant topics.
Is it worthwhile? Absolutely.
What an interesting experience. How to ties ones self in knots. How to explore but find yourself not able to select a path. In a recent assignment, we were required to plan an online learning event on the topic of our own choosing. A significant issue here was choosing a topic that would hopefully be relevant to my cohort - who I know virtually nothing about!
Critical thought number 1 - when we design online courses, what is our focus - pushing content or who are our students and what do they need to learn. Are we content focused or learner focused?
I made this task way more difficult than it had to be. I spent hours researching various topics, researching various collaboration tools, worrying and getting psyched out over reading other people's ideas and feeling they were way better.
Critical thought number 2 - this is how student feel on a regular basis when they are given an assignment. I need to ensure that I am very clear about what the outcomes and purpose of the assignment are.
I decided on choosing a topic that is relevant to the students I teach every day(and hoping that my uni cohorts would find it beneficial as well) - digital story writing. The research began and continued for what seemed an eternity. Weighing up different opinions, deciding how I was going to engage my peers, how much was too much info for participants to work through, how would I sustain them cognitively and socially. Stop worrying, just design a course that I would enjoy.
Course designed, course opened, the wait began...would anyone participate? Was it in line with the assignment criteria. Exhaustion left me with no choice but to wait and see.
The first little glimmer of life appeared on day 2 with Google Docs informing me that there was a visitor to the event. Heart racing! Seriously, get a grip. This was an assignment.
More collaborators joined the event and the discussion deepened. Questions started to be asked and exploration began. I began to stalk the event, constantly checking for more 'action' on the Google Doc. Why? perhaps because people's contributions made it feel like a success. Perhaps because the deeper the discussion went, the more curious I became to hear other people's perspectives. Perhaps because in an online setting, the cravings for social interaction become quite pronounced. I love to test my ideas against other people's opinions and to thrash around the issues. Perhaps because the opinions offered were outside my realm of experience and cast such a totally different light on the place of Digital Stories across different fields. I was amazed. I was encouraged and I appreciated the willingness of others to give my event a go.
Have I benefited from it? Immensely. Apart from reading way too much research, a few points I've learnt are:
it is important to select activities that are engaging and sustaining
constructing though provoking questions is incredibly challenging
digital stories has many layers of application across fields I could never imagine linking to
as educators it is essential to get to know your students well in order to cater for different background experiences and in planning effective events for learning
teacher online presence is critical but it is an art not to stifle discussion
keep a sense of perspective
Google docs is an awesome collaborative tool
As I continue to reflect on the event, I will add more thoughts.