Asia, education, environment, geography, Health, Indonesia, Singapore

Peoples’ Movement to Stop the Haze #GoHazeFree

As I approach my 70th birthday I find a need to consolidate my energy and spend time on those matters that present as the more serious and immediate. One of these matters is the health of our atmosphere and the allied issues of climate change and global warming caused by humanity’s over dependence on fossil fuels as sources of energy.

Many industrial societies have been lazy, content to ignore the serious legacy of external costs, seeking quick profits through a dependency on apparently cheap fossil fuels like coal and oil. Neoliberal economics, with its magical trust in the market as the ultimate determinant of rationality and balance in the world, has gravely worsened matters.

Life in Singapore

Several years ago when I came to live in Singapore it was with some uncertainty. This busy entrepôt with global connections seemed like a model of the market driven approach but this proved to be untrue. Governance takes an appropriate role and although this small island is by no means perfect, there is great concern for the environmental impact of change and development.

Singapore has no extensive natural resources but it has a well-connected society made easier by excellent public transport and communications. With an average population density of 8500 people per sq. kilometre this is a much cheaper goal to achieve than in my own less densely settled city of Sydney with around 400 people per sq. kilometre.

Green corridors are a feature of Singapore.

Singapore also has a locational advantage at a pivotal point between the Pacific and Indian Oceans, at the head of the Malacca Straits. Alongside this is its highly educated population.

Haze and the El Niño year of 2015

Life in Singapore proved very comfortable, until 2015. That year, an El Niño year, the city was enveloped in smoke haze.

A bad haze day in 2015

A began blogging about this problem, first in September of that year as the haze grew in intensity then again in October. Around about this time I left for Bali which was well clear of the smoke haze.

Encountering PM.Haze

Not long after this a colleague from the ANZA Writers group that I convene mentioned a group called the ‘Mother Earth Toast Masters Club”. I went along to a meeting and it was there I met Tan Yi Han of the Peoples’ Movement to Stop Haze.

Since then I’ve become involved with the group. I’m probably the oldest member the group has ever had, but I find nothing but acceptance and a willingness to use what little life experience that I’ve accumulated over the past 70 years.

This month they featured my picture of me and ran a short interview with me under the banner Volunteer Spotlight: Russell. I hope you enjoy the read.


education, geography, web2.0

Field studies with 21st century digital tools: Part 3.1 the theory

As prior reading for this post it would be very useful to read two earlier posts of mine ‘Field studies with 21st century digital tools: Part 1‘ and ‘Field studies with 21st century digital tools: Part 2‘.  Some of the ideas I’m working with will be far clearer with this background reading.

When I started to write this post my intention was to outline a method for applying digital tools to geographic fieldwork.  This is a straight forward matter and I certainly will do this, having already gathered resources. Now I realise that before I move onto this practical description and evaluation of digital tools and strategies there is a little more theorising to do.

Any application of digital tools to secondary education, if it adopts 21st century practice, is ultimately disruptive. It’s taken me a while to assimilate this notion even though I’ve been involved with digital education, in some form, since 2003.

Disruptive pedagogy will be an increasing feature of early 21st century practice. Pedagogical practice will move beyond the instructional tools, strategies and communication processes of the 20th century providing new paradigms for teaching and learning.

Disruptive Pedagogy

Disruptive Pedagogy

This change will be driven by technological innovation and by the strategies of constructivism and connectivism,  expressed through project based learning and the flipped classroom, with an increasing reliance on cloud computing, gamification and team work.  Another way of defining these pedagogical focuses is suggested by Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC), a UK company that has been exploring and researching the application of digital technologies in education and research.  They offer this table in an attempt to define approaches to learning.

JISC: Defining approaches to learning
JISC: Defining approaches to learning

For a fuller account of JISC’s position read ‘Effective Practice in a Digital Age: A guide to technology-enhanced learning and teaching‘.  There is also an accessible and useful discussion of this in Searching for Disruptive Pedagogies: Matching Pedagogies to the Technologies by John G Hedberg. It’s not new but it’s worth a read.

20th Century Twilight

Recently, in a workshop, a respected educationalist suggested that the point of digital technology in schools, instanced by the Digital Education Revolution (DER),  was the opportunity it provided for engagement. I was dismayed by this view, not because it was completely incorrect but because it was incomplete.  Accepting the digital tool kit merely as a strategy for stimulating student engagement, or replacing handwritten school notebooks and text books with a digital version, or even producing project posters by means of PowerPoint and Prezi, are limited responses.  Despite their limitations such strategies , although still bathed in the twilight of the 20th century, are the first tentative steps towards the changes that are to come. New digital tools are not merely pedagogical tools, intended to streamline a teacher’s work or increase productivity, they are ultimately disruptive to the very fundament of teacher centred, school based, 20th century educational practice.

Schools face more rapid change than at any point I can recall in my teaching career, which began in 1971. Recognising this change, accepting that it connects with all aspects of society, culture and economy then acting on the digital transformation in schools is our challenge. DER was a curtain raiser, a means of equipping many educators with a basic toolkit enabling them to embark on the challenge faced by MLC Melbourne all those years ago.  Thankfully, now there are many more tools at our disposal and an accumulation of successful practices from local through to global level.

Field Study and REAL some theoretical background

Field study and it’s opportunities for REAL education, has always inspired me, it led me to embark on a pioneering program that would still be running if global events had not taken the turn they did.  The notion of rapid experiential active learning is practical and concrete place to start layering 21st century pedagogical solutions into current practices. So the point of this post, which has now become two posts , is to begin exploring just how we might go about this process.  Before I do this, I want to map out some of the theory.  If you can’t wait and are bored by theorising, then you could go straight to this  wonderful blog post by Matt Miller, a high school Spanish teacher in West Central Indiana, it’s called simply “10 steps to move education out of the industrial revolution“.  Alternately, if you don’t want anymore theory you can skip this post altogether and wait for my next one that will be a ‘how to do it’.

Mapping the pedagogical terrain

While this commentary is confined to fieldwork in stage 5 geography, the strategies explored apply to any area of field work.

Essential knowledge and skills are addressed in Geography Years 7–10 Syllabus.  June 2003, updated April 2006. Board of Studies NSW.  Leading this skills’ set are the fundamental geographic questions students are expect to adopt as a scaffold for studying geographic issues.

Basic geographical questions. “Geography years 7 – 10 Syllabus” NSW Board of Studies pp.20

When combined with the skills students are expected to develop in Stage 5 geography and a research action strategy they imply an active and critical approach that has a clear and authentic focus.

To be more specific the syllabus identifies the study of geography as contributing to the development of the following foundational knowledge and skills:

  • analysing and using geographical tools
  • gathering, analysing and evaluating data from a variety of sources
  • critically assessing the ideas and opinions of others, evaluating arguments, expressing their own ideas and arguments, and presenting geographical information to different audiences
  • understanding geographical processes and inquiry through fieldwork.

Geography Syllabus page 15 

Also in relation to Fieldwork enabling students to:

  • acquire knowledge about environments by observing, mapping, measuring and recording phenomena in the real world in a variety of places, including the school
  • explore the geographical processes that form and transform environments
  • use different kinds of geographical tools including information and communication technology to assist in the interpretation of, and decision-making about, geographical phenomena
  • locate, select, organise and communicate geographical information
  • explore different perspectives on geographical issues.

“Fieldwork is an essential part of the study of Geography. It is a geographical tool that facilitates the understanding of geographical processes and geographical inquiry.” Geography Syllabus page 16

“Geographical tools are to be integrated in teaching and learning in the mandatory courses and in the elective course. The use of information and communication technologies (ICT) with geographical tools will assist students to gather, analyse and communicate geographical information in appropriate formats. ”  Geography Syllabus page 18

These tools are identified as relating to:

  • maps;
  • fieldwork;
  • graphs and statistics; and,
  • photographs.

As the syllabus was prepared before 2003 it does not reflect the rapid development of access to digital tools over the past 10 years. There is an attempt to foreshadow incorporation of more advanced geographic tools in the statement “When using geographical tools teachers could also use geographical information systems (GIS) as appropriate to support student learning in Geography.”  Geography Syllabus page 19 

There is also the expectation that students develop the ICT skills required to:

  • create a formatted, multiple-paged document containing web-links to communicate geographical information
  • design and create a simple database from student research
  • import data from other ICT applications into student research findings
  • design and create a multimedia presentation or webpage to communicate geographical information to a particular audience, including maps and diagrams as appropriate
  • critically analyse a website, including the ethics of the site
  • access, collect and interpret electronic information.

Geography Syllabus page 35

All of this predates the opportunities for rapid data collection, creativity, collaboration and sharing that 3G networks, WiFi,  Web2.0 tools and cloud computing now permit. Yet, despite these unintended shortcomings the Key Competencies outlined in Geography Syllabus on page 14 can be more readily addressed within the digital domain.

  • collecting, analysing and organising information;
  • communicating ideas and information;
  • planning and organising activities;
  • working with others and in teams;
  • using mathematical ideas and techniques;
  • using technology; and
  • solving problems.

With the roll-out of the DER infrastructure achieving these key competencies became far easier . Yet our digital future and its implications for geography teaching, particularly field work is by no means fully revealed.

A National Geography Curriculum

In the proposed National Geography Curriculum has little to say about the role of ICT in geography teaching. In the area that has occupied much of my digital interest, namely fieldwork opportunities for Year 10 students it has a distinct lack of robust comment and direction. At the Year 10 level there are two units of study requiring methods of geographic inquiry and a variety of geographic skills, these are:

  • Environmental change and management; and,
  • Geographies of human wellbeing.

In Environmental change and management students choose ONE from five different environments.

  1. terrestrial environments
  2. inland aquatic or riparian environments
  3. coastal environments
  4. marine environments: or
  5. urban environments.

Students undertake a comparative study of an example from Australia and at least one other country. So, the urban field study that we have conducted at SSC Leichhardt sits well in proposed national Geography Curriculum

In the past digital tools in the field work we’ve undertaken have been limited to digital cameras and video cameras, whether stand alone of part of a part of a hand held digital device.  There’s been some limited use of decibel metres, but little that has dad immediate connectivity.  Things are changing and in my next post I’ll begin to explore some of the practical digital tools that teachers can start using in field work, now.

More on 21st Century Digital Pedagogy

While the JISC focus is principally in tertiary education they describe a world that our students will enter. The following modified diagram scopes out the attributes of a digitally literate tertiary student.  In NSW the assessment for determining the entry of students to tertiary institutions is the largely pen and paper, the Higher School Certificate (HSC).  At this point I’d like to pose the question:

How many of the digital understandings and skills, mapped in the diagram, are currently addressed in senior secondary curricula and in examinations like the NSW Higher School Certificate?

The complete diagram can be found on the JISC website.

Digital literacy anatomised: access, skills and practices
Digital literacy anatomised: access, skills and practices

Literacy is not enough: 21st Century Fluencies for the Digital age

The 21st century fluency project suggests these fluencies as essential.

21st Century Fluencies.  Source: 21st Century Fluency Project
21st Century Fluencies. Source: 21st Century Fluency Project

Each of the following links is to a video explanation.

If you don’t have time to watch the videos, right now, this table provides a quick summary of the fluencies.



In my next post I’ll explore the practicalities of  geography fieldwork using digital techniques.  I hope that I can incorporate at least some of the 21st fluencies in my work.  Also, I hope that these posts might elicit a response from my colleagies.  We need to unlock our creativity and build our collaboration. Alone it is far more difficult to confront these challenges.

I’ll leave the last word to David Loader

Schools have resisted changes in paradigm and technology … They continue to look back to their origins rather than respond to new challenges and needs. The community has moved on but the institutions and its defenders have not. David Loader. The Age. Aug 6, 2007.

David’s comments are not new, indeed they pre-date the Digital Education Revolution (DER), yet they have a relevance that must be heeded as far too many educators still linger in the last rays of 20th century pedagogy.

education, environment, geography

Field studies with 21st century digital tools: Part 1


Beginning in 1984 Asian Field Study Centres Pty Ltd (AFSC) commenced operating a field study program.

Adopting an interdisciplinary approach the company provided field study opportunities for Australian, New Zealand and US students at various locations throughout Indonesia, although its principal focus was in Bali. Field study programs extended from eight to 21 days. While most programs were of relatively short duration they adopted a holistic and interdisciplinary approach employing the ideas of both Maslow and Bloom offering students a program of rapid, experiential, active learning (REAL).

By the time of the program’s demise in the wake of the first Bali bombings of October 2002, it had developed a tool kit of strategies for applying both constructivist and situative pedagogies in the field. The founders of the company, of whom I was one, often referred to their approach as providing learning for REAL.

Learning about digital pedagogy
Although an early adopter of digital tools, acquiring my first Mac in 1984, during the period of winding up the company’s field study operations, my learning took a leap. I was fortunate enough to work for The Learning Federation (TLF), a subsidiary of the Australian Curriculum Corporation. Initially TLF were searching for teachers of Indonesian. Now this was not my formal teaching area. I had only a four year certificate from Sydney Technical College in Indonesian language, history and culture. Back in the 1980s and early 90s, amongst my age peers who had studied the language at universities, there seemed to be more than a deal of sceptism about AFSC’s approach to Indonesia at large and language teaching in particular. Traditional pedagogy appeared to offer a highly formalised approach to language and a somewhat static view of culture. It seemed to eschew emerging social, cultural, economic and technological trends, presenting Bahasa Indonesia mainly as a literary pursuit while cultural studies were confined to the more traditional.

REAL: the pedagogical strategies
The REAL approach was unavoidably situative. It aimed to provide students with learning tasks that exposed them to varieties of real-life situations necessitating interaction with social, cultural and biophysical environments. Language became a tool of necessity. Acquisition and consolidation of new fluencies was rapid. Most noticeable was the rapid acquisition by many student who weren’t language students, whose main focus was the social sciences or the arts.

The other dimension to the program was constructivist with some elements of associative pedagogy. This active experiential learning involved building and testing hypotheses and finding new links between concepts. To this end students completed self directed field assignments in small groups, finding their way to various locations, interacting with people and context while gathering data and experiences. After each period of self directed activity, findings were presented in plenary sessions bringing the processes of social constructivism into play.

Students also chose a specific project to complete, these included wood carving, stone carving, batik painting, painting and drawing, music or dance. These projects were undertaken in context with artists or craftspeople at their studios or places of work and involved travel to and from the venues. The realistic contexts also provided many opportunities for real life inter-cultural learning.

A basic foundation to the program was the understanding that in an immersion experience it is necessary to learn to see and feel as well as listen and speak. Since students were crossing cultures it was essential to convey a sense that often what we think we see may not be what is there, just as what we tend to feel may not lead us to action that is culturally appropriate.

Culture shock as a positive experience
Culture shock was a unavoidable, yet is was an invaluable dimension to the program. Responses to the environment, whether bio-physiological, cognitive, affective, or spiritual, have an intrinsic relevance and unavoidable immediacy. The interaction between self and context became the substance of each moment in the field. As facilitators, field workers and teachers were in a constant dialogue with students around such matters.

Field study programs were developed using an epigenetic approach, the basic premise being that people need to “crawl before they can walk” while bearing in mind that when inspired in the field passage through developmental stages can be rapid. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs provided important guidance in program development.

Meeting David Loader
In 1996 an art teacher from MLC Melbourne booked a 12 day Bali based program with AFSC. This set up a sequence of events that took us to the inspiring MLC campus in Melbourne. Head of school, David Loader, was and remains a visionary. He later remarked to me that it was important to be thinking at least 10 years out when scoping future directions for a school. David lived according to this principle. Visiting the MLC Melbourne campus in late 1996 I was first struck by the array of satellite dishes on the roof, then delighted to discover that I had entered my first ever 1:1 laptop school. Professional development for this bold initiative was led by Dr Gary Stager.

David also understood the importance of Asia literacy and preparing young Australians for their futures in a rapidly globalising Asia Pacific region

Later I travelled with David in Java as we searched for opportunities set up a sister school connection, and scoped out ideas for a field study program involving students from MLC, the following year. Eventually the program went off without a hitch. Students spent three week based in Yogyakarta, exploring the region and extending their studies into Central Java. Bearing 1:1 laptops they posted their experiences back to the school each night, notwithstanding the glacially slow Internet speeds available in Yogya, at the time.

All good things come to an end
Where this might have developed is hard to say, but like all good ideas whose time has perhaps not yet come, both the 1:1 use of laptops in the field and AFSC faced critical challenges as the New Order Soeharto regime began to crumble, and violence broke out along the archipelago the following year. Fortunately there were other things to do but it was not till 2001 that field study activities resumed in earnest.

By now global communications were becoming much easier and the rice field by our Indonesia based office suddenly sprouted an Internet Cafe. Sadly this was a short spring with the Bali Bombings bringing operations to an end as schools and educational systems closed the curtain on field studies in Indonesia.

Digital responses to field study
In my next post I will outline some of the understanding that I’ve developed in conducting an urban field study and then examine the development if a virtual field study. Both of these were conducted at Sydney Secondary College Leichhardt Campus and funded through the Australian Government’s Digital Education Revolution.

Subsequently, I will explorer several digital tools and strategies that employ cloud computing and collaboration that permit a more explicit connectivist approach in field work.


This post mentions constructivist, social constructivist, associative and situative pedagogical styles. There is an excellent working definition of these pedagogical approaches in JISC ” Effective Assessment in a Digital Age – A guide to technology-enhanced assessment and feedback.”

Aboriginal, Australia, education, environment, geography, history

Belonging places

Recently I posted this short clip of what I thought were Cockatoos, on Facebook. Then I was sitting over lunch with some friends visiting from Indonesia when they flew overhead in a cacophony of sound.

Birds in flight from maximos62 on Vimeo.

“Kakatua”, I exclaimed, for my Indonesian friends.

Then my wife Catherine commented.

“I was talking with someone the other day who said they were something else.”

“Yes, come to think of it”, I thought, “I didn’t see any sulphur crests, perhaps they are.”

Now if you ever want to identify an Australian bird quickly then go no futher than The Michael Morcombe eGuide to the Birds of Australia.

As apps go it might seem to be on the expensive side but don’t be deceived by appearances. This is probably the most functional and useful app I have across iPad and iPhone.

Go to for a complete account of the app’s functions.

So in a very short time we were able to identify the vast flock that was circling overhead as being Little Corella. These birds are mostly white with a blue/grey eye ring. When in flight you might notice a sulphur coloured wash on the underwing.

At this point I felt a little silly, not having bothered to do more than make a guess at their identity and then in the rush to use my iMovie app and post on Facebook, calling them Sulphur Crested Cockatoos in the short video.

So now I can make amends.

Meanwhile a good friend and colleague, originally from Palm Island, responded to my Facebook post with these words.

Have you heard them going off like that through the night and 2am in the early morning and daytime too! Distressed I don’t know maybe the fires! Flying low and fast on a daily basis around where we live since Xmas. Yep sometimes it’s unsettling and you feel for them and its been like this for thousands of years. I suppose it’s their flight and Cockatoo belonging place.

She crystalised what I’ve been thinking about our impact on this land for a long time. In this land there are many ancient belonging places but the relentless expansion of agriculture, industry and infrastructure has greatly disturbed the ancient relationships between the land and all living things.

Australia Day Reflections
On this Australia day, I don’t only remember the impact that colonisation has had on the Aboriginal peoples, I also reflect on the impact modern Australia is having on the ancient relationshops that were once both so universal and also so finely tuned to place. Despite the increasing dominance of the technosphere, the relentless advance of ‘progress’, it’s often possible to encounter the ancient fabric of connections where we least expect it.

economics, education, environment, geography, Indonesia, population

Idenesia Arsip Positif a new #Indonesian Website

Recently I became aware of a website Idenesia Arsip Positif or Idenesia Positive Archive. The title is a clever and typically Indonesian play on words. The word for idea in Indonesia being ‘ ide. So this is an archive of positive ideas from Indonesia. It’s an initiative aimed at gathering and promoting short films and documentaries containing inspirational quality ideas intended to promote the advancement of Indonesia. The media is drawn from global sources but all focuses on Indonesian issues.

Idenesia Arsip Positif has already developed an extensive online library covering a wide array of comtemporary Indonesia social, developmental, educational and cultural issues.

The organisation maintains that the most valuable assets possessed by the Indonesian nation are the remarkable ideas for development of the nation that are held by the people themselves

A good place to start exploring Idenesia Arsip Positif is here with the site guide

One film I found particularly interesting was “People, Oil, Policy; Playing between welfare and curse” from the Revenue Watch Institute.

In addition to the digital archives the organisation also operates Idenesia for Schools as another initiative throughout Indonesia.  This is directed towards schools that have difficulty accessing the archive. Actually many schools will have difficulty accessing the online archive because of Internet access difficulties are widespread in Indonesia. ” . . . Internet penetration is low in Indonesia, at 9.1% of the population in 2010, compared to some of its neighbours in the region (China 34.3%, Malaysia 55.3% and Vietnam 27.6% (ITU 2011). . .” According to the Deloitte report ‘The Connected Archipelago’.

Idenesia Arsip Positif also has a Facebook site

Australia, crowd_sourcing, education, professional development, web2.0

Pecha Kucha as an antidote to writers block #TMSydney

The second #TMSydney Virtual TeachMeet was held this past week with the theme “Let’s do the Time Warp!” The intention was to focus on what one would say to their first-year-teacher-self if they had the opportunity to travel back in time. The event itself drifted somewhat on to other equally important areas, but I managed to prepare and present my first Pecha Kucha on the topic.

TeachMeet’s Mission

The TeachMeet wiki explains it like this. “Our mission is to provide ongoing, relevant and engaging opportunities for teachers to share their ideas and grow their professional learning network. By sharing our knowledge, skills and experience, we all become better educators.” Read more here.

Preparing the Pecha Kucha was both easy and quite challenging. It was easy because I already had a lot of photos, difficult because from the perspective of 2012 speaking back 41 years to 1971, there’s a lot that could be said. My challenge was achieving brevity without losing depth and relevance to the topic. The only way I could do this, within the time constraints that very practising teacher confronts, was to work smart.

A brilliant iPad app

To begin with I used the brilliant iPad app iThoughtsHD. I have to thank the world record TeachMeet in Sydney last year (that’s me in – left front) for the app. Well to be accurate it was Phillipa Cleaves (@pipcleaves) who shared it. In spare moments I sketched out my presentation, then exported it as a pdf and used it as a guide as I built the presentation. Here it is:

Dealing with ‘writer’s block’

For me, this was a great way to begin writing for this blog, again. I’ve found writing difficult over the past six months. It’s not exactly been writer’s block just a shift of energy into building digital learning materials. I’ll write more about this and share some of my work, over the next three weeks, so keep an eye out for further postings.

Retaining Optimism

I’ll try to retain my optimism, in the face of the dire cuts to education spending in NSW. Why is it I keep thinking of the 1950s, of that ‘golden age’, according to some, when education expenditure was, for the most part, less than 3% of GDP. As a Baby Boomer I grew up in a Primary and Secondary school system starved of funds and in my final year of High School, 1964, the percentage had only inched up to 3.7%, still a meagre amount.

Certainly we can work smarter these days but if we are to retain our strong position as a well educated country, we can’t afford to cut the funding.

economics, education, history, Personal comment, population, religion, sociology, technology

Decadence: Decline of the Western World

This past week I attended the premier of Pria Viswalingam’s latest documentary Decadence: Decline of the Western World. I wasn’t disappointed. Although I’m broadly familiar with Pria’s basic thesis on the decline of the western world and share most of his views, I was still surprised by this extraordinary treatment.

Pria explores and lays bare much that a thoughtful observer would undeniably find cause for concern about a system that has passed it peak achievements. His critique, while damming in parts, is not a demolition of the Western way of life, rather it’s a call for attention to an approach that is slowly losing it’s democratic base; becoming numbed by secularism; streaming its educational approaches conferring the best on a few; mismanaging its financial systems; generating alarming inequities in the distribution of income; and creating an impulsive commodified cultural response that leaves its citizens stranded in consummerism.

Making a feature film length documentary is a challenging and daring task and Pria has clearly succeeded. He brings us a powerful work that easily holds an audience for the entire duration. His brilliant writing and beautiful imagery are the keys. They held my attention even when I realised that I’d heard some of it before, in one or more of our many discussions over the years. For the converted such as me there was still much to learn. For a younger generation of Westerners I’m hoping that this will be a major wake-up call.

The pre-publicity succinctly captures the approach when it informs us that Decadence recalls what we now take for granted – values that made the West the world’s pre-eminent civilisation for more than 300 years. But throughout history all civilisations rise and fall. Many a pundit has predicted the West’s demise but now we appear to have the evidence. Decadence asks whether it realises what it’s losing. It may even be a call to arms . . .

Decadence opened at the Roseville Cinema on 1 December, and will open at the Nova Carlton Cinemas on 8 december. Check for times and DON’T MISS IT.