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Plans and changes for 2014

I know it is not exactly the start of the year anymore but it about time that I publicly state my intentions for 2014.

Short story, I’ve started a new company and enrolled to do my PhD.


The longer story is that the company is the natural evolution of the work that I’ve doing at ideasLAB and on my own for the last five years. It has become increasingly apparent that the major stumbling block for the successful re-imagining learning and teaching is our lack of pedagogical understanding. This has been proved to me over and over as I’ve been working on and presenting about the Principles of Modern Learning over the last year. This doesn’t mean that I’m dropping the Principles though, far from it, for those waiting the book will be out soon!

The company that I’ve founded is called Validated Learning, whose first, and flagship, product is the Modern Learning Canvas. The Modern Learning Canvas builds on the best ideas from the business and entrepreneurial world. Basically the idea is that if entrepreneurs can have a business model to describe, understanding and design innovative businesses way can’t and don’t educator have a learning model to describe learning and teaching? Why don’t we have a framework for understanding, describing and designing for innovative learning and teaching? Well now we do!

It enables teachers to more beyond a pedagogical understanding based around the lesson plan and the how and what of learning and teaching, to pedagogical language and understanding of the why of learning and teaching. In doing so it enables teachers even with completely different practice to engage in meaningful pedagogical conversations.

The Modern Learning Canvas is still in closed beta but it will be launched in a matter of weeks, so stay tuned! In the meantime check out the canvas on the site and download the free creative commons printable version.

The second big change is my decision to pursue a PhD, something that I was certain that I would never do. In September, the Modern Learning Canvas started working really well and I began writing a (soon to be released) white paper on it. At that time I began considering whether academic research would be beneficial for the development of the Modern Learning Canvas. In speaking to universities about it, I became more and more convinced that it was a natural and sensible decision. So just a few weeks ago I enrolled at Monash University, initially I’ve signed up to do a Masters of Research but the plan is to switch over to the PhD program later in the year.I couldn’t enrol directly in the PhD program as I didn’t have a research component in the original Master of Education!

My supervisors are Dr Phillip Dawson and Professor Marilyn Fleer. So a big thank you to them for seeing merit in the idea!

Yes, a big year is on the cards…. stay tuned!

Why everyone should learn to code [eventually]

Will Richardson pointed to Bret Victor’s critique of highlighting Seymour Papert’s writing where he laments the misinterpretation of his book, Mindstorms, that programming in itself is worthwhile.

Spoiler alert: It is not. Programming without the purpose of exploring ideas is just learning to code. Nothing more, nothing less.

Case closed… I guess?

But what about reading? And writing?

Take the  passages from Papert’s “What’s the Big Idea?” paper that Bret Victor has highlighted and replace the word “program” with the word “read” or “write.” Is it any less true that reading does not “in itself have consequences for how children learn and think”?  Is it any less true that writing does not “in itself have consequences for how children learn and think”?

It a lot of ways whether programming in itself is necessary for students to learn is the wrong question. The bigger question is what do students need to learn, period. If we’re throwing things such as programming in and out of some supposed curriculum and unspoken (for Bret) but crucial pedagogical framework, then we need to put everything on the table: reading, writing, programming, quadratic equations, surds, history, geography, …. everything.

So what do students need to learn?

Students need to learn what they need to learn, just like us. We need to learn what we need to learn when we have to solve real problems. Students are no different. Curriculum is designed to predict need. We can do better now. We no longer need to teach programming, reading, writing or anything else just in case. Having said that, over time, through a variety of experiences our students will most likely cover all the good bits of the old curriculum.

Of course, using that criteria, I doubt there is any debate that reading and writing would make the cut. That quite early the need to read and write would be necessary for whatever the students were exploring.

I’ll leave it to the mathematics, history and geography teachers to argue the rest of my list above…

Since 2000, when Seymour Papert wrote this quoted paper, the world has gone digital. In the space of 14 years we (and our students) deal with digital information and content continually. Programming gives us (and our students) powerful tools to play, explore and make sense of of this information. Whether it be a simple  function to manipulate data in a spreadsheet, or a script to scrape data from a website that thinks it “owns” our data, a website to communicate with the world or many other cases, without the ability to program our students will be constrained, limited and frustrated.

Authenticate problem solving, ideation and play in our digital world requires the ability to program. I can’t believe how any student can go through the schooling experience without being faced with that fact. If our students are working on meaningful problems and projects, if our students are seeking to understand their world, and explore big ideas, programming in some shape or form is essential.



Note 1: Yes, I probably agree with Bret Victor’s caricatures of the rich and famous’ reasons for learning to code, but that doesn’t mean I agree (and I’m not sure what Bret actually thinks) that student shouldn’t learn to code.

Note 2: This is not meant to be a critique of Bret Victor, I love his ideas and work. Bret suggests that you read Mindstorms if you haven’t already, I second that.

What do they expect to see?

So someone somewhere thinks it might be a good idea to videotape teachers in the classroom.

I wonder what they expect to see?

I wonder if they’re able to distinguish good practice from bad practice, or good teachers from bad teachers, and if so, how?

“The best way of learning is to see yourself and have somebody help you.”

Wrong. It is a myth that if you’re not succeeding (whether we’re talking about teachers or students) it is because you’re not working hard enough.

The best way of learning, is to have a process that enables you to make good decisions about your learning.


Finally, if videotaping was the best way for teachers to learn it would also be the best way for students to learn. Yet they’re not suggesting that students be videotaped, I wonder why not?

Melbourne teachers – beta testers wanted

My (sort of) secret project, The Modern Learning Canvas, is ready for beta testing. In a nutshell the canvas provides context that enables teachers to understand and discuss  their learning and teaching approach, and design for learning.

I’m looking for teachers who would be willing to act as beta testers. Ideally, a professional learning team from a Melbourne school, where the whole team would work on the canvas together.

If you’re interested, I’d love to speak to you about this. I would be happy to give a demonstration to you before you commit, and the time commitment for the team would be a single session for about 45 minutes. Email me at or contact me via twitter @richardolsen

Lessons in spelling ‘have no place in 21st century schools’

Lessons in spelling ‘have no place in 21st century schools’

By Graeme Paton

Sugata Mitra, professor of educational technology at Newcastle University, said good spelling and grammar was necessary “maybe a hundred years ago” but “not right now”.

He insisted that children should be encouraged to express themselves in a number of different ways – including using mobile phone text messaging – rather than relying on established linguistic rules.

The comments come despite a new drive by the Government to promote the basics of English language throughout compulsory education.

Under new plans, a revised national curriculum is being introduced that requires pupils to accurately spell 200 complex words by the end of primary school.


Another trotting out of the line, that nothing has changed in 100 years, which is false, silly and unjustifiable. But Sugata has a point, to a degree, and the 200 most common word list is a great example. The 200 word list is a compromise because as Sugata points out we require our students to learn them before they use them not as they use them. Technology allows us to learn as we need to, however, it does not replace the need for learning, as Sugata seems to be suggesting, in fact, spelling and grammar is exceedingly more important in todays world of instant publishing.

Maybe the 200 words could be instead used to audit our teaching program? If our students are exposed to a variety of authentic experiences they can’t help not learning those words.

Making Sense of Selfies

Making Sense of Selfies

by Pamela Rutledge

But what if taking selfies is perfectly normal?  The prevalence of selfies is one of many manifestations of the rise in self-publishing of all kinds of information and images.  The venues, such as Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, Vine, Twitter, YouTube and others, are practically endless.  Social technologies have redefined “normal” as more public.sharable and searchable.  Like most digital self-publishing, selfie-ing is easy.  All you need is a camera phone and a Facebook page or Instagram app.  This makes it ripe for exploration and identity experimentation, particularly among ages where identity formation and emancipation are key developmental tasks as well as for those who are still interested in looking at themselves.  Both of these may contribute to why user demographics skew young.

At last some common sense commentary on selfies, shame it didn’t come from a cyber-safety expert.

Ten big impact measures to have a positive effect on teacher quality and student outcomes

Ten big impact measures to have a positive effect on teacher quality and student outcomes

by Stephen Dinham

“The biggest equity issue in Australian education today isn’t computers, new buildings or equipment. It’s each student having quality teachers and quality teaching in schools supported by effective leadership and professional learning in mutually respectful local community contexts”. (Dinham, 2010)

I think teacher quality, as an individual that effects student learning, is largely a myth, probably perpetuated by universities to keep their perceived value high. The pedagogical approaches and the professional culture of the school is far more important in lifting student outcomes than individual teacher training. You could argue that individual teacher ability might matter more at secondary level but given that students are largely already pigeon holed, as far as their academic prospects, by the time they finish primary school this is probably a moot point.

The Future of Programming

The Future of Programming

Another must watch keynote from Bret Victor, see notes on Bret’s site:

“The most dangerous thought you can have as a creative person is to think you know what you’re doing.”

It’s possible to misinterpret what I’m saying here. When I talk about not knowing what you’re doing, I’m arguing against “expertise”, a feeling of mastery that traps you in a particular way of thinking.

But I want to be clear — I am not advocating ignorance. Instead, I’m suggesting a kind of informed skepticism, a kind of humility.

Everything that Bret is saying about programming could also be said about learning with technology. Before we knew what was possible where we’re we trying to get too?

Disruptive Education: Technology-Enabled Universities

Disruptive Education: Technology-Enabled Universities

by Sean Gallagher and Geoffrey Garrett

We think the best way to understand the ecology of MOOCs is to consider them
the proto iTunes of higher education. The core of the analogy is that iTunes
transformed the music industry not by changing the way music was made or
recorded, but by revolutionizing how it was made available to listeners. Coursera
does not make the Stanford and Melbourne classes on its website, but it does
make them ubiquitously available.

MP3 files are not of the same quality as high fidelity stereo recordings, but they
are so much more convenient to use than even CDs let alone long playing vinyl
albums. Taking a Harvard class online isn’t like being in the Harvard Yard, but it
is so much cheaper and more accessible.

The parallels with iTunes are not convincing for mine: 1) music is rare you can only get it (legally) from the approved source, unless of course you want to hear me belt out the latest Lady GaGa album on my acoustic guitar, learning you can and do get it from other sources than universities, 2) suggesting people will put up with inferior sound quality means they will do the same with learning is simply untrue, if university education was substantially better than self-directed learning then universities wouldn’t be looking at MOOCs in the first place, 3) the value universities have is not in their courses but in their people (professors, lecturers, tutors…), 4) just for fun, Stanford professor Steve Blank insists the music companies were stupid to sign up to iTunes and only did so because Steve Jobs used a “reality distortion field” on them.

Maybe those creating and taking MOOCs are also subject to a similar reality distortion field.

Advent of Google means we must rethink our approach to education

Advent of Google means we must rethink our approach to education

In this kind of self-organised learning, we don’t need the same teachers all the time. Any teacher can cause any kind of learning to emerge. A teacher does not need to be physically present, she could be a projected, life-sized image on the wall. A “Granny Cloud” of such volunteer teachers have been operating out of the UK and a few other countries into schools in India and South America for more than five years, using a combination of the internet and admiration to provide a meaningful education for children. We don’t need to improve schools. We need to reinvent them for our times, our requirements and our future. We don’t need efficient clerks to fuel an administrative machine that is no longer needed. Machines will do that for us. We need people who can think divergently, across outdated “disciplines”, connecting ideas across the entire mass of humanity. We need people who can think like children.


I’m a bit late to this one but Google is getting a fair run around the traps at the moment so I thought it was worth a response. Google doesn’t replace the need for mentors and more knowledgable others, it changes a lot of things but not that… The idea that a granny cloud can replace teachers and curriculum is ridiculous.