Ten big questions for education

I need your input and help. It’s for a good cause. I’m a firm believer that educational innovation is a bottom-up process. Could you help me (and others) prove that?

I’ll try and keep this as brief as possible if you promise to do the background reading and try to contribute in some way. :-p


EduCon 2.0 is both a conversation and a conference.
And it is not a technology conference. It is an education conference. It is, hopefully, an innovation conference where we can come together, both in person and virtually, to discuss the future of schools. Every session will be an opportunity to discuss and debate ideas — from the very practical to the big dreams.

This year’s was 29th-31st of January at the Science Leadership Academy, Philadelphia, USA (which is why I wasn’t there).

Background Reading

Will Richardson blogged about what happened at Educon and the next steps required to turn conversations into action:


Will crowdsourced 10 questions that educators need to answer effectively:

  1. What is the purpose of school?
  2. What is the changing role of the teacher, and how do we support that new role?
  3. How do we help students discover their passions?
  4. What is the essential learning that schools impart to students?
  5. How do we adapt our curriculum to the technologies that kids are already using?
  6. What does an educated person look like today?
  7. How do we change policy to support more flexible time and place learning?
  8. What are the essential practices of teachers in a system where students are learning outside of school?
  9. How do we ensure those without privilege have equal access to quality education and opportunity?
  10. How do we evaluate and validate the informal, self-directed learning that happens outside of school?


The next step was the creation of a wiki – 10fored.wikispaces.com. This is a place to continue the conversation and provide tangible results. Taking a step back but keeping an overview, Will has asked for volunteer moderators for each of the questions.

I volunteered for Question #6: What does an educated person look like today? I’m interested in how it relates to my thesis, the original title of which was ‘What does it mean to be ‘educated’ and ‘digitally literate’ in the 21st century’.

Help me out. Send a tweet to @dajbelshaw with the #10fored hashtag with some ideas. Or, better yet, add your thoughts to the wiki page!

Thanks in advance! 😀

(image CC BY CarbonNYC)


The problem(s) of 21st century literacy/ies

As most people reading this will already know, I’m studying towards an Ed.D. at the moment. My (tentative) thesis title is What does it mean to be ‘educated’ and ‘digitally literate’? The impact of ICT and the knowledge society upon education in the 21st century.. You can find my thesis proposal here and bookmarks related to my studies here. My current thinking is that I’m just going to focus on the concept of what ‘literacy’ means in the 21st century as it’s a huge and confused (confusing?) field.


I want educational technology to be boring.

A few weeks ago on an episode of the excellent podcast EdTechWeekly, Jeff Lebow, one of the co-hosts, expressed how he is still a little amazed by wireless networking. It started me thinking about how much technological stuff in my everyday life I take for granted these days – and how that’s a good thing. 🙂

Then, in a post which referenced my recent issues with a certain VLE provider, Will Richardson linked to a presentation by Clay Shirky. For those of you who haven’t heard of Shirky, he’s the Next Big Thing™ after Thomas Friedman. He’s written a book called Here Comes Everybody that I feel I should read this year. Within the first couple of minutes of the presentation, Shirky said something that made me lose track of everything which followed:

Clay Shirky on technology

Absolutely! I don’t mean by the title of this post that I want educational technology to be ‘boring’ in the sense of it being tedious. No, I mean ‘boring’ in the sense of it being so commonplace and ubiquitous that it isn’t thought about. I want us to get to a stage with all of this Web 2.0 stuff1 where we’re constantly focused on what we can do with the technology. A bit like wireless networking – at least for most of us… :-p

1 Tom Barrett’s getting there with his pupils and Google Docs

Related articles:

Zemanta Pixie

“Toto, I have a feeling we are not in Kansas anymore!” (or, How to get started in the Edublogosphere…)

Wizard of Oz

I’ve been contacted by four different postgraduate researchers in the last two weeks. It’s getting to the stage where I’m considering setting up a new website/discussion space! A couple of them just wanted permission to use some of my stuff in their theses, one is already a member of the Edublogosphere, but one asked a very pertinent question:

My stumbling across some of your postings last night was my first trip in the edublogosphere. What else is going on out there?

As you can imagine, I hardly knew where to start! As I like to reply to emails ASAP, I replied thus:

  • Find some blogs to read. My Google Reader shared items might be a good place to start. Also try the big names in the edublogosphere – search for Stephen Downes, Will Richardson, Vicki Davis, Ewan McIntosh, and Dave Warlick. 🙂
  • Get yourself a Google account and use Google Reader to subscribe to the RSS feeds of blogs (don’t know how? click here)
  • Start using Twitter. At first you’ll think “What on earth…?”. After a while you’ll find it indispensible.
  • Start blogging yourself. Doesn’t matter what, but start making links with people. It’s the conversation that counts! Try edublogs to get you started. 😀

There’s a Hebrew proverb that I’m sure almost every educator will have heard before: “Do not confine your children to your learning, for they were born in a different time.” The same could be said of the Edublogosphere. I can hardly recommend that people start by using the same tools I did when things have moved on so much in the last 3-4 years! What would YOU recommend?

This Sunday, EdTechRoundup will be discussing just this issue – how to get started in the Edublogosphere – from 7.45pm onwards. Please do join us and give your input. The session will be recorded and go out as a podcast.

If you can’t make it, or just want to get the conversation going before then, please add your comment below! :-p


How I got started… and the difference it’s made.

Karyn Romeis’ dissertation is going to be on “the use of social media on the professional practice of learning professionals”. She’s asked the edublogosphere for ‘testimonies’ – how we got started and the difference it’s made to our professional practice.

For what it’s worth, I’m going to chip in with my $0.02 as Karyn has often helped me before and has been a valued commenter, both here and on the now-defunct teaching.mrbelshaw.co.uk.

The questions Karyn has asked are:

  1. How did you get started with social media?
  2. What was your introduction, and how did the journey unfold?
  3. What difference has it made in your professional practice?

I shall take the points, as they say, in turn:

1. How did you get started with social media?

Although I knew what a blog was before 2004 (they came up in Google search results, for one) I didn’t really start subscribing to RSS feeds, etc. before then. I read the early ‘big names’ in what was then a small edublogosphere – the likes of Will Richardson, Dave Warlick, Stephen Downes and Wesley Fryer.

After subscribing to a number of blogs, including educational ones, I started blogging myself in late 2005. My confidence had grown from commenting on a range of blogs and having created websites the old-fashioned way as a teenager. I set up my teaching-related blog on a sub-domain of the mrbelshaw.co.uk website I was using with students in my classroom. When I found myself off work for a sustained period due to stress I began to blog at teaching.mrbelshaw.co.uk every day. Like so many in the early days, I saw the huge potential of Web 2.0 tools in the classroom, and genuinely believed they could revolutionise the way we deliver learning to young people.

Wikis came later. I still haven’t found a way to use them in the classroom in a truly collaborative way, but I’m willing to keep trying. I’ve dabbled with podcasting, but blogs are my main method of communication on the Internet. Blogs, wikis and podcasts were – and to many still are – the defining tools of Web 2.0. Indeed, it’s pretty much the title of Will Richardson’ book.

2. What was your introduction, and how did the journey unfold?

I’ve mentioned the first part of this question above, but the journey unfolded in the following way. First of all, I started getting comments on my blog. These actually came from ‘seminal bloggers’ – in some cases figures such as the luminaries mentioned above. This spurred me on. During my absence from school due to stress, blogging gave me a focus, positive feedback and, I believe, aided my recovery.

The numbers of subscribers to the RSS feed of my blog slowly grew from late 2005 until I stopped blogging there at the end of 2007. During this time, I witnessed a huge expansion in the size of the edublogosphere. Ordinary class teachers (like myself) started putting their heads above the parapet online. First, this was mainly in the USA, but gradually I became aware of those in International Schools, then in Australia, and finally in the UK. I’m of the opinion that we still haven’t got enough English bloggers – Scotland’s at least 10 times smaller, population-wise, yet they put us to shame in the edublogosphere!

I’ve cleared my RSS feed reader and started again from zero a couple of times now. I think it’s probably a useful thing to do at least once per year: it gives you a reason to go out looking for new content and angles that can motivate and inspire you.

Finally, Twitter has been somewhat of a revelation. I’ve had my account about a year and a half now. During that time I’ve made so many more connections than I could have done before. You can get answers to very specific questions almost in real-time, begin impromptu more formal discussions or simply get the latest ‘buzz’. I love it. 😀

3. What difference has it made in your professional practice?

I’ve always been a fairly inquisitive person (I chose to study Philosophy as an undergraduate) and never been scared to mix things up a bit. In fact, the reason I became a teacher was to play my part in reforming the system for the better. Being part of a global community of teachers, however, has given me confidence, the knowledge and, in some cases, the skills, to get my point across in my educational institution.

There is such a thing as the ‘wisdom of crowds’, but I think it’s probably more like the ‘wisdom of the network’. Twitter’s a wonderful example. Thinkers such as George Siemens have a theory to explain this – it’s called Connectivism. Learners are ‘nodes on a network’ and the network harbours a great amount of knowledge, on tap at almost any time.

In my interactions with students, it’s allowed me to ‘flatten the walls of the classroom’ – to use a Warlickian phrase. Although students could keep up with homework, etc. with mrbelshaw.co.uk 1.0, the advent of learning.mrbelshaw.co.uk saw the dawn of mrbelshaw.co.uk 2.0, including links to Web 2.0 apps (wikis, podcasts, YouTube video clips, and so on).

It’s also meant I could start really showing my colleagues that they could use the Internet quickly and easily to interact with students. Having to learn HTML or to use a program with a potentially difficult-to-use learning curve to get content online, was a barrier for most teachers. Now, it’s as easy (in most cases) as signing up for an account somewhere, typing/uploading stuff and then sharing the web address with students. It also gives you the chance, again in most cases, to get feedback.

I’ve been fortunate to begin my teaching career at a time when such revolutionary tools are available. It’s just a shame that they haven’t – yet – caused a learning revolution. I’m four years into my teaching career and very much looking forward to what comes next. Web 3.0 and the Semantic Web? 🙂

Image credits (all @Flickr):


The Map Is Not The Territory: the changing face of the edublogosphere

World mapI started reading educational blogs in late 2004/early 2005. Back then, there were only a few educators blogging – the likes of Will Richardson, Vicki Davis, Wesley Fryer. Oh, and the inimitable Stephen Downes. There was (and still is) a dearth of UK-based educational bloggers.

One thing they had in common, however, was a revolutionary message: that education must adapt to the 21st century or suffer the consequences. There were fantastic conversations to follow across these blogs. This is one of the reasons I started teaching.mrbelshaw.co.uk in late 2005 – to become part of this ‘conversation’. 🙂

Now, in early 2008, things have changed. Whilst it’s great that there’s more educators than ever blogging, tweeting, etc. the focus has shifted. Those that were formerly in the classroom and relating the changing world and tools available to everyday educational experience are no longer in those positions; educators who have no desire to transform education are blogging. The edublogosphere has changed from being about ‘the conversation’ to being part of ‘the network’. It all smacks a little too much of ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ and, to be honest, viral marketing of Web 2.0 apps.


At the end of the day, the map is not the territory. My wife, for example, memorized the map of Newcastle-upon-Tyne when we got married and she moved up there. In many respects she could navigate herself around the city better than I could – someone who had lived close-by for 15 years or more. She could name the most popular places for pizza, show visitors the major attractions. But she didn’t know the city in the way a local would. She knew the what, but not the why.

The same goes, to a great extent, with the edublogosphere. Three years ago educators were looking to using new technologies to move towards a new model of education. Nowadays it seems to be all about bragging how you’ve used (web) application X before anyone else has. The edublogosphere seems to be overrun by educators who know the what but not the why. They’re impressed by those who can ‘leverage the power of the network’. This means, in practice, seeing how many people following you on Twitter respond to a shout out for information/hello’s whilst you move out of the classroom and into a consultancy role.

I guess from the above you can tell I’m not in favour of the new direction the edublogosphere’s headed. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still people keeping it real and not jumping on the latest bandwagon. But they’re becoming increasingly hard to find. Technology and the teaching methods that gave a vibrancy to the early edublogosphere have been distorted in order to be shoehorned into a corporate vision of schools I, for one, find repugnant.

So how should we fix it? Well I’m not saying that I’m not also to blame. I know that I am. These days I use technology to make my life easier rather than to push boundaries. Perhaps we need a commitment to collaboratively develop new pedagogies rather than remark on how ‘cool’ it would be to use any given tool? I can’t believe that it’s 2008 and we’re still using a method of education more than a little reminiscent of the Industrial Revolution… 🙁