The Elephant Internet?

It is axiomatic, especially among experts (even sensible ones) that everything you do on the internet is forever. This even emerges in pop culture. In David Fincher’s The Social Network, a character says something like, “The internet is written in ink.”

And, much as I am loath to appear a rogue crackpot, try googling my old web-page The Internet Agony entity, which was a vibrant site in its day (roughly 1996-1998), or the Focaccia Penguin (the band that I was in around 2000). You might find the odd dead link, but both of these things were very much live on the internet at the time, and are either mostly gone or actually gone now.

I’m not suggesting that people stop being mindful of what goes online. But I am suggesting that we should be careful when we talk in absolutes, because the world – even the virtual word – is rarely that black and white.

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Disconnecting and Connecting

Here is a fairly rough video of the talk that I did today. As you can probably tell, I did okay.

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Failures of Regulation

I think that there is a school of thought, and one that is very well intentioned, that believes that process can lead to excellence, that if we avoid enough errors we will achieve greatness.

At the heart of this is some truth: excellent artefacts have few glaring errors, and simple mistakes are one the sign of an amateur.

Some English teachers work like this, imploring students to focus on avoiding error and following “the rules”. Some of these rules are just folklore and some actually reflect wider usage.

  • Never start a sentence with “and.”
  • Don’t have more than one “and” in a sentence.
  • Don’t write sentences with more than 25 words.
  • Avoid clich├ęs.
  • Don’t split your infinitives
  • Don’t end your sentence with a preposition.
  • Use a variety of long and short sentences.
  • Leave out unnecessary words.
  • Don’t write in the passive voice.

Some of these are misguided and simply reflect prejudice, and others are sensible restrictions. However, you can follow every single one of these and still write boring, forgettable crap that no bastard will want to read. You just legislate again mistakes, but you can’t legislate the production of quality.

Others, and I count myself in this second camp, focus on students producing and consuming at a great rate, with less focus on avoiding error. Write then polish, rather than fret and don’t write.

There are similar veins in management, and especially management of schools. Some leaders encourage performance and engagement, and polish as they go. Other imagine that if you keep people away from “mistakes” then achievement, engagement, and success will follow.

Things to be avoided include

  • Students all working one a task together
  • Students all working on the same task
  • Using information or activities from a textbook
  • Teachers setting goals for students
  • Doing the same activity again
  • Explaining concepts to students

Just like the grammar rules, the individual items on this list are sometimes associated with low-quality work. However, and this is the kicker, you can avoid all of these things and still have a crappy school.

You can, in some cases, have students just phaffing around, without resources, without goals, and with teachers who will not or may not provide them direction. You cannot subtract your way to excellence.

Instead, I believe that leaders should park their orthodoxy and concentrate on helping students and teachers actually learn. Quite aside from anything else, when people define their roles in terms of finding errors and punishing those making them, they see errors everyone and teachers and students alike get sick of being told they are bad.

Instead, help the learning train get up some momentum, and then tweak it for ideal performance, rather than parking it in the shed until every possible mistake is obsessed about, talked to death, and turned into the boogie monster that it usually isn’t.

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Podcasting: The Next Generation

About a year ago I did a session at the ICTEV conference about creating learning tasks that used genuine collaboration, and the session went brilliantly, with the participants making a good podcast in less than an hour, and having a lot of fun in the process.

But the real purpose of professional learning is not to have fun, but to pick up perspectives and approaches that you can put into practice as a teacher. With this is mind, I was delighted to hear that a second teacher from this session has had students make a podcast. You can and should listen to it here.

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I Have a Dream

I know there are many good and principled school principals, but imagine if each and every school had a principal that made a positive contribution to the welfare and learning of students, and a positive contribution to the work that teachers and other staff do.

Imagine if that large and expensive apparatus that supports principals supported students and teachers instead.

Imagine if all that energy that went into flashy self-promotion went straight into classrooms.

Imagine if all that energy that went into nit-picking went into making school positive and effective.

An effective and decent principal is a marvellous asset to a school, and I do think that schools need leaders, but I think those leaders should work in the service of the students, rather than the staff and students should work in service of the principal, no matter how they behave or perform.

I’d like to think that one day this is where governments, school councils, and education departments will direct their efforts. Fingers crossed.

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