Australia, education, Indonesia, Personal comment

What do we do about the decline of Bahasa #Indonesia in #Australia?

Yesterday I listened to an interview with Dr Jane Orton, the director of Melbourne University’s Chinese Teacher Training Centre.

She made two critical and obvious points.  First, education is a state matter and as a nation we would benefit from a national languages curriculum.  Secondly, she explained that the top results in studies of Chinese language in Australia go to those who already speak a Chinese language.  Non-Chinese background students are opting out of the system.  This in itself isn’t a major problem as we are still producing competent Chinese language speakers. There is however a failure to engage and retain students of non-native speaker background in continuing studies of Chinese.

Of course there are wider problems with the teaching of Asian languages in Australia.  We can gain some insight into the popularity of Asian languages by examining enrolments in higher education institutions.  Enrolments in Asian language programs conducted by Australian institutions of higher education have been studied in surveys initiated by the Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA), since 2001.  In their latest report Asian Languages Enrolments in Australian Higher Education 2008-9 Report commissioned by the Asian Studies Association of Australia, author A/Prof Anne McLaren, from the University of Melbourne, emphasised that:

  • New programs have opened up in Chinese, and enrolments are up by about a third since 2001 but most new learners are of Asian background.
  • Numbers in Indonesian have fallen dramatically since the early 2000s and a number of providers have terminated progams in Indonesian.
  • Japanese has seen a modest increase in enrolments since 2001 and continues to have by far the largest number of enrolments of any Asian language.
  • Enrolments in Arabic have more than doubled since 2001 from a small base.
  • Korean and Vietnamese enrolments have grown quite strongly since the early 2000s but are offered in very few institutions.

The demise of Indonesian Language
Australia’s connection with Indonesia stretches back to the dawn of human settlement in the region.  Trade between Nusantara and Aboriginal nations was well established before the colonial period.  To traders from the north the Kimberley was known as Kayu Jawa and Arnhemland as Marege. Denise Russell from the University of Wollongong has published a short but comprehensive account of these connections in her online paper Aboriginal–Makassan interactions in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in northern Australia and contemporary sea rights claims.  She shows the extent of the trade with this useful map.

From Denise Russell's online paper at http://lryb.aiatsis.gov.au/PDFs/aasj04.1_%20makassan.pdf

Given this extensive history, the Indonesian language has long been of particular interest to me.  Over the period 1984 to 2002 I travelled there many times as a field study centre manager, tourism product developer, location manager for film and television, consultant to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, market researcher and tourist.  These visits took me to 14 provinces from remote parts of West Papua, Kalimantan and the Mentawai islands, to Diplomatic and Ministerial meetings in Jakarta.  After a break following the first Bali Bombings of October, 2002, I’ve resumed regular travel to Indonesia.  My most recent trip was in January 2011, as readers of this blog will already know.

While I was back in Sydney, working on other projects in 2004 it was with more than passing interest that I read Louise Williams’ article, “We must learn more of our neighbour“  published in the Sydney Morning Herald’s September 11-12 weekend edition. She was most thorough in exploring Indonesia’s broad importance to Australia.  She correctly observed that the collapse in high school Indonesian-language enrolments was flowing on to universities.  Her excellent article moved me to write a letter to the editor stressing that, “The result is a deteriorating capacity to produce graduates equipped with the skills needed to sustain an effective engagement with our neighbour.”

I argued that the Australian Government needed to be far more active in rekindling and fostering the tools and understanding necessary to engage with this complex emergent democracy. A renewed commitment to Indonesian-language education was needed and could prove to be one highly effective strategy in combating the forces of extremism that sought to challenge and destabilise democratic processes in this region.

What I had in mind was that fluency in a language helped ensure an informed and mature understanding of developments along the archipelago, rather than monochromatic responses, based on ignorance that filtered out the histories, archipelagic inter-connectedness, subtleties, complexities and essentially secular nature of our large neighbour.

Watching The Year of Living Dangerously again the other day, I was reminded just how far the world and Indonesia has come, since those Cold War inscribed days. Yet amongst many Australians I still encounter basic fears of Indonesia, a low level paranoia in which it’s no longer the Communists or the militarists in Indonesia that are to be feared, but rather Islamist extremists.  This lack of capacity to view our neighbour accurately, through contemporary lenses, can be observed across the bilateral relationship.

I’m not certain what the role of this sub current is in Australian society and politics but I suspect it plays a role in the declining popularity of Indonesian studies, despite the renewed popularity of Bali as a tourist destination.

According to the ASAA report Indonesian was taught in 18 institutions of higher education in 2009, two less than listed in the 2008 report. The report goes on to observe that a number of institutions have ceased teaching Indonesian since the 2000s (Sunshine Coast, Wollongong, Curtin) or have minimal enrolments (UWS). It notes a decline in Indonesian enrolments of 12% in equivalent full-time load (EFTSL) from 2001 to 2005 with this trend continuing into the most recent survey period.

Amongst the 24 responding institutions in 2009, there was a total decline in enrolments from 324 EFTSL in 2001 to 220 in 2009, a fall of 32%.

Table 5 from the ASAA report is striking

Comparison of Chinese, Indonesian & Japanese total enrolments in EFTSU for 2001 and 2009 in 24 Australian universities.

We must invest to latch into the Asian Century
In response in part to the Federal Government’s announcement that former Treasury Secretary, Ken Henry, is to coordinate the preparation of a white paper on “Australia in the Asian Century”, to be considered by full cabinet in early 2012, today’s Australian carries an excellent article by Bernard Lane. He skilfully traverses the present problem quoting from the University of Melbourne’s Asian law expert Tim Lindsey who explains that:

Engagement with Asia requires skills.  This would seem to be self-evident but doesn’t seem to be recognised in government policy or the community.

Lane goes on to cite a 2010 Asia Education Foundation report which warned that:

On Current trends, Indonesian could be virtually extinct in language studies at Year 12 level by 2020. 

The same report underscore the fact that Indonesian is at crisis point, with Year 12 enrolments halved since 2000 to just 1100 students nationally.

Lane maps out some of the approaches adopted towards Asian languages indicating that:

A 2007 election promise from Kevin Rudd, the $62.4 million National Asian Languages and Studies in Schools Program (2008-12) aimed to double to 12 per cent the group of Year 12 students emerging with Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian or Korean by 2020. A month before Mr Rudd was removed as prime minister last year, he launched Asia Education Foundation reports showing reverses in Asian literacy at school that experts said NALSSP alone could not remedy.

Unfortunately at the end of June 2012 NALSSP runs out and without a commitment to continued funding for Asian languages, momentum will again be lost. Lane quotes  executive director of the Asia Education Foundation Kathe Kirby who says:

The money keeps on peaking and troughing, so you’re just building up momentum and expertise . . . and then the money falls away again

Ms Kirby observes that the Henry review can only make crystal clear the challenges ahead of us if we are going to equip our young people with the capabilities for the Asian century.

Looking on the bright side
The awarding of a National Teaching Fellowship to Prof David Hill from Murdoch University, by the Australian Learning and Teaching Council, is some cause for optimism. as a first step Prof Hill has comprehensively described the problem of declining Indonesian language capacity.  His, however, task is to develop a national strategic plan for the advancement of Indonesian language in Australian universities.

In a discussion paper that he presented in February this year he quotes Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, from an address to the Australian Parliament in 2010:

I know of no other Western country where Bahasa Indonesia is widely taught in the school curriculum. I know of no other Western country with more Indonesianists in your governments, universities and think tanks.

While this is high praise from the President, Prof Hill observes, in part also quoting Australian Indonesianist Prof Jamie Mackie, that. . . as the pioneering generation of Indonesianist scholars – so praised by President Yudhoyono — retires, it is becoming clear that we are “living on past capital, in an area where new blood is crucial”.

The project has compiled an extensive media dossier on the matter of Asian languages in Australia which can be accessed here.  With initiative like this underway there is some basis for optimism.

I think in all of this discussion the the long term challenge is one of consistent policy settings and funding continuity. In the end the responsibility must remain with the Federal Government.

Australia, DER, education, history

Digital archives transforming the study of history

Beginning the study of Modern History at the University of Sydney, years ago, I was abruptly made aware of the radical difference between what was then taught in NSW secondary schools as history, and the reality of contemporary historical scholarship. School history, in those days, was taught from the text book. Any sense of differences in historical perspectives or opportunities for students to come into contact with primary sources was limited to the point of almost complete absence. Eventually things changed.

University of Sydney Medical School before 1891, from Records NSW

This photo is from the State Records NSW photostream.

Now a statutory body, the NSW Board of Studies (BOS), mandates the use of sources and even primary sources in the teaching of history in this state.  Text book writers have adapted to changes in the regulatory framework and developments in printng, the invention of the CDs, DVDs and the opportunity for a web based presence associated with individual textbooks are common place, but for how much longer?

The challenge for text book publishers
Publishers of textbooks seem to be scrambling to catch up with the research and data processing power of the 1:1 computer enabled student.  A quick search of Australian educational publishers reveals the current state of developments.  One publisher is offering an electronic textbook with complementary targeted digital resources through its website. As well as this they offer a ‘research management system’ that includes media such as interactive games, templates, videos and weblinks. My concern about this approach is that while it provides a convenient shell and minimises teacher workloads it offers students a somewhat ‘gated community’.

I’ve always been an ardent supported of discovery learning. When an owner and director of Asian Field Study Centres I was careful to develop a variety of in field strategies allowing students opportunities for their own original discoveries through field work. We called these elements of the field study program, Self Directed Activities. All involved some element of primary research, data gathering, analysis and reporting back and evaluation.

Opportunities for discovery learning and for working with original materials are now such, in 1:1 class rooms, that there is little apparent need for text books whatever their current iteration.

My Year 9 Australian History class has not used a text book this year. This hasn’t been a distinct objective but it has been a logical outcome of 1:1 laptop use. The DER Laptop program has had a major impact on my pedagogy.  This hasn’t meant that I could simply adopt a lazy approach to teaching either, it hasn’t been a matter of merely pointing students at the Internet and saying “Now you go and find the answers”.

Teaching without a text book
Using the NSW Board of Studies history syllabus and the HSIE faculty’s program as my ‘road map’ I’ve set out to build my own resources for the development of a PBL approach.  Critical in this process has been the Laptop Wrap template from the NSW Department of Education and Communities Curriculum and Learning Innovation Centre. This basic digital scaffold has been extended and stretched about as far as it can be. Other essential elements have been the valuable stock of Le@rning Federation learning objects available through TALE and the remarkable resources of the National Library of Australia. It is about this last resource that I’d like to concentrate the balance of this post.

The National Library of Australia provides an abundance of online materials and links to a diverse range of information on Australian history resources as well as providing links to other useful sites. Perhaps the ‘jewel in the crown’ of this collection for the middle school history teacher is Trove. This excellent tool has allowed me to incorporate more opportunities for students to research basic issues in Australian history using primary sources. Trove provides rapid access to an extensive collection of digitised of Australian records. At the time of writing Trove provides access to 247,815,237 online resources covering books, images, historic newspapers, maps, music, archives and more.

As a first step I introduced Trove using a projector and interactive whiteboard. As a class we examined some basic data about Sir Charles Kingsford-Smith.

Sir Charles Kingsford-Smith, Queensland, 1930

Once we’d explored some of Trove’s possibilities, I embedded a selection of documents about Kingsford-Smith in a Laptop Wrap “Australia between the wars”. These were downloaded and placed in an Adobe Portfolio document. In the next Laptop Wrap on “Australia in World War 2” I’ll provide some resources from Trove using the same technique but then leave students the task of locating, evaluating and using others that they find with their own Trove searches.

This process is in it’s early stages, but it’s becoming clearer by the day that the study of school history is being dramatically transformed by the access to digital archives made possible by the roll-out of 1:1 laptops.

education, Personal comment, technology, web2.0

Swimming with Maslow in the digiverse

Whenever I start to think about the digiverse I’m drawn to the analogy of water and swimming. Learning to swim is something children will do naturally, particularly if the element of fear is reduced or eliminated.  Some believe that children should learn to swim while still infants.  Certainly, in utero they had an affinity with water, it is their world, and there can be no fear, the rules for survival are implicit.  The rules are also implicit once a person has learned to swim, once they’ve learned to trust that they have a point of buoyancy and they won’t sink like a stone.

Soon they learn that their point of buoyancy with full lungs brings their body higher in the water.  There’s even a system known as drown proofing that allows one to stay bobbing like a cork, without moving hands or feet, catching a breath on the upward movement before sinking back into the water, only to rise again to exhale and take another quick breath before sinking again.  There are basic rules of survival in this situation rules that are intrinsic to the laws of physics, laws that were theorised by the ancient Greek philosopher Archimedes.

Swimming at Coogee

Once we have learned to swim, fear of survival in water is a remote and seldom encountered state. Remaining safe is an almost subconscious process.  Learning to survive is the key, the very foundation.

Abraham Maslow’s theory of a hierarchy of human needs, the simple triangle with survival at the bottom and self actualisation at the top, comes to mind. Applying this to water, the stages are clear.  For some the final stage might even imply insights and understandings of water that extend beyond the mere physical or social perhaps entering more subtle and symbolic realms, but I’ll leave that to Carl Jung.

Learning to swim in the digiverse
Two years ago I began writing about student access to Social Media sites. I argued that:

Incorporating Web2 tools into our practice allows us to adopt a constructivist approach and encourage our students to actively experiment, reflecting on and attempting to solve real-world problems, creating knowledge and discussing what they are doing and how their understandings of this process might be changing.

Much has changed since then. My digital classrooms revolve around Edmodo, with extensive use of Project Based Learning often presented in the TALE Laptop Wrap shell but going well beyond the limits envisaged for the simple Laptop Wrap. Both Blogs (Edublogs) and Wikis (Wikispaces) have been introduced, the latter with rather less successfully than the former. There is an ongoing discussion on digital communication embracing such areas as using search engines and framing searches; accessing data bases; copyright; plagiarism; digital, visual and formal literacy; choice of appropriate fonts; appropriate registers for communication; public and private forms of communication; the rights and roles of administrators, editors and subscribers; the Intranet and Internet.  There’s much more discussed but in short we are engaged in the discourse of the digiverse. Yet in all of this our journey is constantly frustrated by filters and barriers. Some I’m able to circumvent using the Department of Education and Communities procedures currently in place, but much remains an ongoing source of frustration. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the blocking of online video services such as YouTube and Vimeo to students.

In my earlier post I also quoted Dr Tanya Byron, from Safer children in a digital world : the report of the Byron Review, who made a fundamental point that at the heart of the matter our focus should be on empowering and equipping children to use technology safely and responsibly.  She stressed the importance of promoting safe and responsible behaviours in using technology both at school and home, further stressing on page five of the report that:

Just like in the offline world, no amount of effort to reduce potential risks to children will eliminate those risks completely. We cannot make the internet completely safe. Because of this, we must also build children’s resilience to the material to which they may be exposed so that they have the confidence and skills to navigate these new media waters more safely. 

Internet filtering and the educator’s duty of care
As educators we have a duty of care which, to be meaningful and responsive, must be grounded in contemporary realities. In schools today one of the most pressing elements of real life is the social fact that students are extensively engaged with the Internet and social media and that this has a ubiquitous and unfiltered presence in schools.  In reality schools are awash with unfiltered access to the Internet.  At any time, to make the point once more, students can gain access to any site that they choose using a smart phone linked to the 3G network.  It is no longer sufficient to remain relatively passive in the face of this reality, perhaps comfortable in the knowledge that official points of contact with the Internet are filtered.

Duty of care involves actively confronting and dealing with the real life experiences of students, teaching strategies to move beyond mere survival, acquire safe practices in Internet and social media use and to move on as empowered operators to the creative social application of digital technology. If we aren’t doing this we aren’t fulfilling our duty of care.

Crowd sourcing and creativity
Crowd sourcing is a post industrial approach to change and innovation that is unleashing the immense creative power of globally connected social media. It represents a new standard in the productive application of the digital tools that our students are beginning to use.  It represents their future, yet it’s in our present.

Tom Hulme, Design Director at IDEO in London and open source innovation pioneer, spoke recently on crowd sourcing, at the Brisbane Ideas Festival.  His presentation was re-broadcast this week by the ABC’s Big Ideas Program.  Audio recordings of his address can be downloaded from the ABC website. There is also a video of his address.

IDEO  has a global network of 16,000 participants from 178 countries who regularly contribute their ideas to the solution of a diversity of human problems. IDEO’s approach is to lift digital relationships and the sharing of  ideas well up Maslow’s hierarchy. It affirms Creative Commons approaches and underscore the immense creative potential in the crowd.

As educators we must ask – How do we prepare our students for such developments?

Clearly we are moving away from education based on the industrial revolution and its expectations.  Shifts in commercial and business paradigms are rapid and enmeshed with changes in the digiverse. There are new measures of success such as the Design Quotient (DQ), a points based measure of people’s contributions in the crowd. Its a measure of competence in digital communications, networking ability,  the extent of someone’s contribution, of their creative insight and their capacity to solve problems.

If education systems in their approach to the digiverse only operate at the survival level, filtering and teaching safe practices as a theory, there is little chance that they will remain relevant.

The DQ which you might see on something like an Open Planet Ideas  profile is a measure of just how active someone has been in the inspiration, concepting, and evaluation phases of a challenge that relies on crowd sourcing. DQ also measures the extent of a person’s collaboration, increasing every time they comment or build on other people’s inspirations and concepts. When they take part in a challenge, they build up their DQ by accruing points. Some people are already including their DQ in their CVs and I dare say on Linkedin.

There are growing and compelling arguments for unfiltered access to the Internet in schools. The educator’s duty of care is not merely a question of safety and must also address the direction and relevance of the pedagogical process.

Australia, DER, education, geography

Sydney Urban Growth and Decline 2011: Student observations updated

Last November I published the first of these wordles, by way of summarising the language used by my students who had written reports on a field study project conducted earlier in the year. My students completed a field study around the Sydney Harbour foreshore from Darling Harbour to Circular Quay.

This was part of a major unit of work within the syllabus topic: Issues in the Australian Environment. A description of my approach is found here.

After the students had completed a report on this activity, as part of an assessment task, I merged two student reports as the base document for a Wiki on urban processes. Both papers are now published on an urban proceses wiki for further refinement by all students who participated.

Here’s a wordle based on the two papers.

Wordle: Sydney and Urban Study

Not long ago we repeated the field study.  My feeling is that this years students really understood the issues at a deeper level than last years. Here’s the wordle from the two best students reports.

Wordle: Urban Growth and decline 2

Why a stronger result this year
Several factors operated to produce a stronger result overall, this year. I think the first of these was my own confidence. Last year the field study was run as part of a DER Research project. I was probably over ambitious in what I attempted to achieve and also less familiar with the software and what students might be able to achieve with it. Last year there was also an extraordinary amount of time pressure on the process. Another critically important factor was that all assessment was reduced to pen and paper work whereas this year a significant component of the assessment was digital. This last change reflects changing culture within the school and the increasing prominence of digital approaches, thanks to the DER 1:1 laptop program.

Scope of the Project
This report focuses on indicators and impacts of urban growth and decline identified in a field study that was undertaken along the foreshore of Sydney Harbour. Participants investigated a variety of the geographical issues related to change in land use along the foreshore of Sydney Harbour how they are being resolved. Specifically the field study aimed to answer a set of research questions concerning:
• the use being made of the foreshore;
• the impact of such use on the biophysical and built environment; and,
• the ways in which impacts are being addressed.

With these questions as a focus participants gathered data at four separate locations: Pyrmont Bridge and King St Wharf; Millers Point; Walsh Bay; and Circular Quay West.

Not all of the main urban processes of urban renewal, urban consolidation, urban decline and gentrification were observable at each of the chosen locations but all of these processes were observable in the field study area.

Just how the participants reported on the field study activity in the follow-up assessment was open to one of two basic approaches.

They could:
• choose to report on each location in turn describing and analysing the indicators and impacts of each urban process at each location: or,
• discuss each urban processes citing examples of it’s occurrence, indicators and impacts at each of the four locations studied

education, Personal comment, technology, web2.0

Reflecting on #Pedagogical Implications of Technology and the #Digiverse

Imagining the future in the 1960s
Back when I completed my Diploma in Education our lecturers invited us to think about the knowledge and skill sets embedded in current curricula. We were asked to reflect on just how appropriate they might be for the schools that we were about to enter and the children who were to be educated for the future. I tended to nod in affirmation as they cautioned against mere reproduction of knowledge and skills that reflected past practices. In those days, the late 1960s, there was still time. Yes, I’d heard of the cybernetic revolution that would eventually transform the world of work. Perhaps in my wilder moments I even envisaged schools of the future having some sort of mainframe core with terminals, I new that major libraries were about to digitise their catalogues, accessioning and loans systems. Things were certainly about to change but there was plenty of time and besides I had a world to explore.

Speed reading 
Back then work was easy to find. Teaching in schools then pre-dated multiculturalism. Back then the most innovative federally funded initiative was the speed reading system. This was the twilight of the Menzies/Holt/McMahon era and speed reading was one of that government’s educational innovations. No one seemed much concerned that a proportion of students with languages other than English ended up in General Activities (GA) classes and that discipline problems were still addressed using corporal punishment. The rattan cane still had its place as a relevant piece of educational technology, for some.

After a year struggling to teach my junior GA class timetabled for a double period after the school assembly every Thursday, yet while achieving significant success with my other classes, I left the system to travel. In those days leaving Australia often involved a sea voyage. In my case it meant travelling to from Sydney to Fremantle and catching an Austasia Line ship to Singapore. Certainly Jet travel to Europe, my ultimate destination, was an option but prices were kept high by an Australian national airlines policy. Long range passenger jets provided cheap charter flights out of Asian ports like Singapore, KL and Bangkok but the air connection from Australia was expensive. So, approaching Asia by sea was an economical and an exciting prospect.

The Olympus Pen F
My first move in Singapore was to buy an SLR camera. There was a new one on the market, the Olympus Pen F, a half frame 35mm camera with an excellent set of lenses. I’d talked it through with a friend whom I worked with at the University of Sydney Television Service, while a student. This was probably the best camera I’ve ever owned, until the digital era.

Over the next year I travelled through S E Asia and eventually Europe, clicking away. Returning to Australia the following year I’d amassed a significant beginning to what eventually became a vast 35mm slide library. It was an investment in my future as a teacher.

Boulevard St Michel, Paris, January, 1973

From Fordiographs to the Apple Macintosh
This was still the era of 35mm strip films, coloured slides, weekly 16mm movie orders from Teaching Resources at Burwood, spirit stencils spun off the Fordiograph machine and even agar-agar stencil plates, a technique predating the Fordiograph. Later it was transformed by the Gestetner and a remarkable innovation that allowed us to laser etch copies of newspaper articles from daily newspapers into a stencil placed on a drum. Oh yes, there was also the flood of Overhead Projectors that signalled the Whitlam era. Then there was the emergence of the dry photocopying, what a revolution. I found the cutting and pasting a most satisfying activity and if I was pushed for time there was still the old spirit stencil.

Finally, by the early 1980s the computer labs began to appear. To my mind, as someone who mainly wants to create learning materials, network students and empower them with the opportunities to create ina digital space, the early computers, Micro Bees, Apricots, Apple IIe and so forth were obscure almost pointless machines that seemed to be mainly about manipulating objects on a green screens. Then I discovered Apple Macintosh. About this point I left the system, picking up work here and there as a casal teacher, sometimes working with the Learning Materials Production Centre, something that grew out of the Correspondence school. This body had various incarnations until it was finally absorbed into the Centre for Learning Innovation.

Leaping into Cyberspace
During this period I spent long stretches living in an Indonesian village, and travelling throughout Indonesia at large. When I arrived, in 1984, my village had not long been connected to the electricity grid and had about five telephones for around 13,000 people. Television sets were rather more ubiquitous running to about one per 1000. Over the next 18 years it simply lept into the digiverse.

My house was once an isolated structure on the edge of rice fields with a 3 hour trip to reliable international phone connections and banking. When I left in October 2002, under rather sad circumstances, I had a phone connection and there was an Internet cafe about 200 metres away. When I was there in January this year the area was swimming in WiFi signal and there was an ATM about 100 metres away.

Computer Labs to WAPs
Coming back to Australia things were also moving fast, schools now had established computer labs, mostly PCs working as efficiently as Macs. Still I couldn’t help thinking that this was still grafting digital technology onto the periphery of the curriculum, except where it was the curriculum. Finally there came a day when in the state of New South Wales we had 22,000 wireless access points installed in class rooms and all upper middle school students issued with computers equipped with the latest and most powerful software available for PCs.

It all happened so fast, well at least that’s how it seems to me.

Digital Connections
My reflecting on this, has been stimulated by the writings of two colleagues, Bianca Hewes and Darcy Moore, whom I know principally through digital connections.  Having followed their Blogs for a while I’ve come to understand that they’re struggling with some of the same pedagogical issues that confront me. Recently both of them have written opinion pieces on the challenges of teaching and learning in this digital universe. Their posts have caused me to think about the digital universe and its challenge for the teacher and the learner yet again. So, I started to trawl through the digiverse in search of some answers, or perhaps just a more thorough way to caste the problem as I see it. I wondered just how big cyberspace had become and stumbled across this quote:

The early Internet had around 10 million users. Today we have on the order of one billion users (100X) on the Internet, and up to three billion if you count Internet-enabled mobile phones too. Whereas in the early days of the Internet, there were perhaps one million websites, today we have about 100 million active websites (100X). The total number of Internet connected devices is today around five billion (a 100X growth from about a decade ago), and the boldest predictions say that in the next few years this number will grow to a trillion! That’s 200X the current number.

So that’s big, but just what does this mean. Well I dug a little deeper and encountered a story by Heidi Blake from the UK Telegraph from May of 2010.

Quoting from the The IDC Report. She wrote

Humanity’s total digital output currently stands at 8,000,000 petabytes – which each represent a million gigabytes – but is expected to pass 1.2 zettabytes this year.

One zettabyte is equal to one million terabytes, or 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 individual bytes.

The current size of the world’s digital content is equivalent to all the information that could be stored on 75bn Apple iPads, or the amount that would be generated by everyone in the world posting messages on the microblogging site Twitter constantly for a century.

I know that this means it’s big, but I can’t quite grasp it. Dig a little deeper, I thought. So I discovered these facts:

So that’s big and it’s all been so rapid and it’s transforming the world that all of us are in, even that of my once sleepy Indonesian village.

Back at School
For some time now I’ve been systematically introducing my students to blogging; creating learning experiences using simple techniques such as the Laptop Wrap format; encouraging students to chat, to reflect and to discuss things using tools like Edmodo; regularly posting assignments and homework activities to Edmodo; setting group tasks that require Internet based research; building a library of resources on Moodle; reframing simple tasks using digital tools like Hot Potatoes; encouraging colleagues to include digital components in assessment tasks; redesigning my class room layout so I’m not the centre of attention.  My pedagogy has been progressively digitised.

Unfortunately not all colleagues are as passionate about this change as the way of bringing contemporaneity and relevance to the class room. Students frequently forget to bring computers to class because, as they say, on a given day mine is the only one requiring computers.

More recently some of my more gifted sudents have expressed concerns that I’m not preparing them for the School Certificate because they aren’t practising their writing by making notes in books. I explain to them that they’re acquiring an entirely new tool kit of digital tools, that digital literacy will be invaluable in their world. I’ve also made a point of including at least one pen and paper writing task in each digital project that I build.

Overtime more and more colleagues have been adopting digital tools in their pedagogy.  Certainly younger teachers are rapid adopters, yet I fear that despite the 22,000 WAPs in NSW secondary schools the groundswell of adoption amongst colleagues is more like a ripple than a tsunami. I’m optimistic that the tide will rise but I do feel quite impatient at times.

Australia, DER, education

A small digital initiative in teaching School Certificate Geography

In the hurly burly of media driven assessment of education these days, the general public is often deprived of basic information about some of the success stories in Australian schools. My own state, NSW, in particular has a rigorous and contemporary approach to teaching and learning, combining the best of traditional and contemporary strategies. One recent initiative that has the potential to radically transform the face of education, in NSW, is the Australian Government’s Digital Education Revolution (DER).

As a Geography/History teacher with an interest in digital communications and social media, I incorporate many digital tools into my day to day teaching. Thanks to DER I’m able to offer my students resources that are engaging, contemporary and relevant to their educational and social development. I’m also make a significant contribution to the development of their own digital communication skills.

Where I work the DER provided Lenovo ThinkPad computers to all students in Years 9 and 10. The laptops are connected to an 802.11n wireless network delivering a guaranteed minimum of 2Mb/sec simultaneously to 30 laptops per teaching space. Experience suggests that speeds are greater than this, usually of the order of 5Mb/sec. The backbone consists of Ariba wireless access points in every learning space. The 802.11n solution has a range extending outside of the wireless enabled learning spaces. In short, the school is now ‘swimming’ in wireless access.

The school is also rapidly expanding its use of both fixed multimedia projectors with interactive whiteboards and it’s mobile multimedia projectors, in response to the rich teaching and learning opportunities offered by the DER.

The pedagogical response
Provision of laptop computers to students on a 1:1 basis has stimulated a varied set of pedagogical responses. The whole staff is becoming increasingly active in adapting their approache so that students are able to make the most effective and appropriate use of 1:1 laptops.

The initiative has fostered opportunities for greater differentiation of the curriculum, to meet individual learning styles. Teachers are increasingly adopting project based approaches to teaching and learning which mean there are greater opportunities for 1:1 teaching of students.

Responses have been as diverse as our extraordinarily eclectic and culturally diverse student population. One small initiative I’ve taken is to build this Blog, the SSC Leichhardt Geography Blog, for my Year 10 Geography class. It worked well in 2010 and I’ve recycled much of the resource material and the new 2011 student intake who are about to make their own uniquer contribution. So stay tuned.

Australia, DER, geography

Sydney Urban Growth and Decline: Student observations

Earlier this year my students completed a field study around the Sydney Harbour foreshore from Darling Harbour to Circular Quay.

This was part of a major unit of work within the syllabus topic: Issues in the Australian Environment. A description of my approach is found here.

The project was supported by the SSC Leichhardt Geography Blog and after the students had completed a report on their field study activity, as part of an assessment task, I merged two student reports as the base document for a Wiki on urban processes.

Here’s a wordle based on the two papers.

Wordle: Sydney and Urban Study

That was in 2010.

Not long ago we repeated the field study.  My feeling is that this years students really understood the issues at a deeper level than last years. Here’s the wordle from the two best students reports.

Wordle: Describing Sydney