Edumate Confab – October 19


edumate-logoIt’s a pleasure to be part of the inaugural Edumate Confab to be held 19 October at Pymble Ladies’ College.  Our Hobsons Edumate team have been working hard to make this day as useful as possible for our schools.  My sliver of the day (everyday, in fact!) is focused on how to help schools achieve what matters most (for them).  For me this translates as “student success” as defined by each individual school community.

My sessions at the Confab all focus on teaching and learning, from the biggest issues confronting today’s schools to best practice approaches to designing, delivering and achieving the school’s goals for student success.

I hope you can join us!

General Assembly Keynote

Curriculum Module –  Best Practice Session

Help Articles:

  • Curriculum Planning Quick Reference Guide
  • Curriculum Planning Detailed Overview

Teaching & Learning Roundtable – Bring your questions and challenges

Curriculum Module – Masterclass

Learning Alignment System Best Practice

  • Help Article: How to Create Units in LAS
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New Article – Next Era Ed Overview

ets-next-era-edEducation Technology Solutions has published online the full version of an article of mine they are publishing over two issues.  Schools: Invent The Next Era Of Education is the best source for the complete view of my “Next Era Ed” model with directional questions for each:

  1. Vision – is it articulated and shared?
  2. Evidence – exactly what does achievement of the vision look like?
  3. Learning theories – are research-based pedagogical models that promote such student achievements used?
  4. Curriculum 2.0 – are units designed to leverage the pedagogical models and personalise ICTs?
  5. Review – has a systemic review process that ‘closes the loop’ for continuous improvement been embedded?
  6. Smart digital environments – are technologies being used to increase efficiencies and enliven Curriculum 2.0 as well as tap into data analytics to support systemic review?

Please read the article to see how a school you might know might be shifting from “mass produced teaching to personally meaningful learning.”  Here’s the model graphic to help your reflection.  All feedback is always welcome!


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DLTV DigiCon15


I’m really looking forward to joining in at the DLTV DigiCon for 2015 on 24 – 25 July at Swinburne University campus in Hawthorn.  I’m doing two sessions on Saturday.

Session F (11:45) – Leading Schools in a Digital Era (AKA R U Ready for Next Era Ed?)

Spark Talk – “Let’s Make New Mistakes”

  • These 12 minute sessions are meant to stimulate thinking and discussion.  I hope to inspire action.



Does your school have a vision of student success that is aspirational and includes articulated descriptors?


Using backward design, does your school have a continuum of rich performance tasks that validate the vision and prompt interdisciplinary demonstrations of students’ understandings that require their transfer to new contexts?

Learning Theories

Given the student performances your vision describes, what learning theories – and their research findings – are most likely to generate the desired evidence of your achievement as a school?

Here are few favourites:

Curriculum 2.0

Are your teaching and learning practices founded on the Learning Theories and lead to student demonstrated evidence of the vision? Also, in an age of rich digital resources and personalised devices, are ICTs used to engage students in personally meaningful accomplishments?


Do you have systemic reviews embedded that “close the loop” for continuous improvement?

(Smart Digital Environments)

What technology platforms or software does your school use to support teaching, learning, curriculum development, student learning profiles, etc.?

  • I started working for Edumate in 2015 because I saw it as the best smart digital environment available in the Asia Pacific. I’m happy to discuss how it supports all aspects of Next Era Ed or use this contact form if you’d like someone to get in touch and visit your school.
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Back to Adelaide!

I’m really looking forward to joining in at the EdTechSA conference coming up on 15-16 July.

Warm-up Poll – Gathering Data

Session 1 (9:45) – Next Era Ed Readiness Check

Session 2 (2:45) – How Hobsons’ Edumate Accelerates Next Era Ed

If you’re interested in how one software platform integrates the phases of Next Era Ed, come to this session and we’ll explore it together.

Closing Keynote (Thursday) (3:30) – How Ready is your School for Next Era Ed?

I’ve been talking about this for many years and this presentation will take a reflective dip in order to encourage strong action to create a reality that is not only possible, but “imperative.”



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WebQuests at 20: a lesson in “only new mistakes”


seaching-for-china-0.1I wrote an article last month, The WebQuest: A Parable reflecting on the 20th anniversary of WebQuests (Education Technology Solutions magazine – also available as a pdf). I won’t repeat the article in this post but use what follows to provide a bit of evidence that K-12 education doesn’t need any new ideas, but new mistakes.

Evidence of Missed Opportunities

The heart of the reflection was that I think we’ve missed two decades of opportunities for educational technology in K-12 schools to make a difference, to achieve the goals we had for ICTs to empower authentic, personally rewarding and meaningful learning. As a way to verify this – and to double-check that I haven’t descended into a crotchety middle-aged pessimism – I recently asked a room full of ICT educators and leaders how often they observed the following happening in their school’s classrooms:

  • Essential questions and inquiry drive learning.
  • Students choose their own pathways through content.
  • Students analyse complex topics from multiple perspectives.
  • Learning activities are scaffolded to support differences among students.
  • Students use ICTs as tools for constructing knowledge and creating rich productions.
  • Students work in teams and collaborate with peers online.
  • Students get real world feedback from experts in the field.
  • By the end of every unit students have transformed information into understanding.

You can see the live poll here. The results are in no way a criticism of the people in the audience as I’d wager that this group is more sophisticated in their ICT integration and curriculum than most similar cohorts as they were a self-selected sample of keen educators who chose to attend an EdTech conference.  Here’s what we learned:


Ouch.  Of course the “gotcha” is that each of these teaching and learning bullet points are integrated into every real WebQuest. To verify this, you can take a look at What WebQuests (Really) Are. And these things aren’t radically difficult or cutting edge – and have only gotten easier as technology has becomes faster, more powerful and ubiquitous.  So I think it’s fair to say, as a general summary, that pockets of pioneering educators have ALWAYS done great things, but also, that we’re still far from pervasively improving what’s done across all schools.

I think that what’s heartening is that almost 20% identified that Carol Ann Tomlinson’s (et al) efforts in differentiation have had an impact.  Fantastic!  I have to be a little cynical, however, about the second most-observed aspect of “using ICTs as tools for constructing knowledge and creating rich productions.”  I justify my skepticism on two fronts.  First, again, these responses come from ICT integrators and leaders in the field so are not representative of an average school.  The second hesitation I have is around “constructing knowledge” and “creating rich productions” for which I set pretty high bars.  I see “constructing” as analogous to “understanding” and my work in Understanding by Design with schools indicates that many teachers still don’t have a great sense of the difference between “knowing” and “understanding” – not being harsh, just a reality that springs from mandatory curricula that tend to focus on covering content, not uncovering enduring understandings.  Also, in terms of “creating rich productions” the “richness” I seek is not just in terms of “rich media” which is great, but “richness” of thinking, relevance and authenticity: using technology to transform information into understandings that matter to the students and the world.

Of course the point is that the challenges schools face will not be solved by technology or any “new idea.” Just significant, hard, but deeply meaningful, work. The work, in fact, that only educators can and should do.  So let’s not fret or get too worked up by the latest buzzwords – today’s STEM/STEAM is yesterday’s “Challenge-based learning/ PBL” and last decade’s WebQuests.  This is why I say forget the “new ideas” and focus on making “new mistakes” because the mistakes people are making with STEM and the same they made with WebQuests.  Also, let’s not fixate on things we can’t change (unless you can) like high-stakes tests, government funding, cultural obsessions with technological silver bullets or social scourges.  Let’s keep focused on what we can do to transform our school cultures and curriculum from accepting calendar-based, mass produced teaching to competency-based, personally meaningful learning.

Thoughts?  Leave a comment.


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Next Era Ed @ ECAWA


How great to be back in Perth!  I’m really pleased to return to the ECAWA conference to see old friends and meet new ones.  During the conference I’ll be presenting:

the following sessions:

Snapshot Poll



Friday Sessions

The Five Steps to Next Era Ed

  1. Vision – is it articulated and shared?
  2. Evidence – exactly what does achievement of the Vision look like?
  3. Pedagogies – do you have research-based models to get you there?
  4. Curriculum 2.0 – are your units designed to leverage the models & ICTs?
  5. Process – have you closed the loop for continuous improvement?

Take the Next Era Ed Readiness Check?

Vision & Evidence

Pedagogies / Psychology Research

Curriculum 2.0


Frameworks / Processes

  • Understanding by Design / Schooling by Design
  • Curriculum Mapping
  • High Reliability Schools
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ECAWA 2015

ecawa-logoIt’s with a real sense of pleasure, enthusiasm and anticipation that I return to Perth to present at the ECAWA conference this year.  Special thanks to Lynley McKernan and the whole conference committee for welcoming me in my new role with Hobsons Edumate.  I will do three sessions, a keynote on Thursday and two sessions on Friday.  The keynote and one session will be on Next Era Ed and how to get there while one session will highlight how Hobsons Edumate facilitates the journey.  I’m also looking forward to catching up with the other conference keynoters: long-time colleague Dr Tim Kitchen and Dr. Michael Henderson.  If you are in WA, I encourage you to join us all at Scotch College in Swanbourne for what is always a stimulating experience.

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My Professional Journey circa 2015


My goal has long been to help educators and schools nurture meaningful student achievement.  Often this includes a conceptual shift from teacher-delivered lessons to student-driven learning.  I’ve spent decades working on this problem and would like to use this post to describe how I’ve come to what is a new chapter in my professional life.

The Past

This journey begins when I was a classroom teacher, integrating word processing, multimedia and desktop publishing into circa 1990s high school English classes. District technology mentorships and other recognition at the time indicated that my attempts were viewed positively. Yet I was fortunate enough to work as an occasional teacher education instructor at the time which exposed me to the latest learning theories. These helped me see the fil-bluewebnweaknesses in my classroom units and inspired me to get a Masters degree in Instructional Design.  After almost a decade I left the classroom because I wanted to focus on creating the best learning experiences I could.  This was the period, 1994-97, was when I worked with Professor Bernie Dodge to develop the WebQuest approach and I went on to articulate other formats to integrating the Web into rich and authentic learning experiences.  I mention this phase of my career because it relates to this post’s topic in two ways.  First, Understanding by Design was the assigned text for one of the courses Bernie and I team taught, thereby immersing me in the work of Wiggins and McTighe early on. Second, you can see that my focus was on designing and developing classroom learning activities: thus curriculum, not technology.  More about why this is significant shortly.

 As the Years Passed

After leaving the university and moving to Australia, it was only natural to keep developing Web-based learning strategies. This early flurry of work included model activities like Searching for China and Eyes on Art as well on the online design environment called Web-and-Flow. My main audience were other “pioneers” in Web-based learning and authentic education and we wanted to “push the boundaries” to create inspiringly rich and meaningful learning activities for our students.  But there was a problem.  And the problem has only grown as technology has gone from “emerging” to “ubiquitous.”  The problem is that to make any real difference, “rich and meaningful learning activities” can’t be a “one-off” or something students did in 6th grade with Ms Tech-Savvy.  The problem is analogous to when one teacher tries to enforce a rule the rest of the staff tacitly ignore: students adapt to the dominant culture.  So many early adopters of ICT-enhanced learning discovered that most students had learned and preferred the easy path of “playing school: you pretend this is learning and we’ll pretend to learn.”  Back in 2001 I explored this challenge in an article titled “Re-Tooling Schooling” and it denotes a shift in my thinking and focus.  Yes, I want students in a classroom to engage in great learning activities, but as someone who wants to make a real difference, I realised that the only solutions from this point on had to be systemic.  If a whole school or system wasn’t transforming itself, the spirit of inquiry would find it hard to flourish in a culture of passivity.  So where are we now?

The Present (The Problem)

Unfortunately, as technology has gone from emergent to ubiquitous, it has failed to make significant differences in shifting schools from teacher-delivered lessons to student-driven learning.  I have two theories for this.  The first I call “tech’s appeal” and fully intend the rhyme with sex appeal. Because of the amazing advances we’ve all experienced through new technologies, we’ve been smitten by a kind of collective mystique that some new gadget or software will achieve the desired transformation.  We’re blown away that Walkmen have become iPods that have become smartphones that have become cameras that have become GPS transmitters that have become friend finders, that have become watches, that will become…?  So in education we swoon before tech’s appeal, wanting to believe the same magic will transform school-based learning. We fall for the allure and buy computer labs, videodisc players, CD-ROM encyclopedias, interactive whiteboards, iPod Touches, clickers, iPads, eTexts, course management systems, and try HTML, blogs, QR codes, YouTube, podcasts and TED Talks.  And on and on…  But things haven’t changed fundamentally.  Maybe the technologies aren’t really “there” yet, but there’s a second problem besides blind faith in the power of technology.

The Second Problem

Education has Attention Deficit Disorder.  I base this on the multiple messages I receive everyday from my educational networks. Posts, links, tweets and emails buzz constantly about “the new:” gadgets, apps, ideas.  The current flavors are PBL, STEM/STEAM, Maker Movement, coding, gamification…  Don’t get hung-up on these examples because they are no better or worse than the dozens of others that buzz about the press daily. Over the years other such ideas have borne the weight of high expectations for improving schools: flipped classrooms, PLNs (Personal Learning Networks) or SOLEs (Self Organising Learning Environments). Rather than change education, these good ideas and frameworks have probably yielded nothing more than Educational Attention Deficit Disorder.  See if you don’t feel like our friends below:


How are we meant to engage in any substantial transformation when we’re buried by a stream of constant “good ideas” and “necessities?”  We have to focus.  And be honest: if an easy answer or silver bullet solution were out there – one that really produced the results we want – in this age of instant communications we would all hear about it and re-tweet exponentially so that schools everywhere would be transforming with the virality of funny cat animations. So what is the honest truth?

The Honest Truth

Like any human organisation, education is a complex endeavour with many interconnected parts. Even knowing where to begin the work of transforming schools is a challenge. The video above illustrates that. So the problem is not a shortage of good ideas. After many years wrestling with this, I’ve come to believe we lack three things: a focused vision, a worthy process and sustained effort.

A Focused Vision

I’ve written elsewhere about recommended steps and benefits of clear and focused vision, so I won’t labour the point here, but let’s highlight the obvious: unless we’re sure where we’re headed, we’ll never get where we want to go.  The twists and turns, detours and distractions, are too numerous.  Similarly, if everything’s urgent, we’ll never get to the essential.

 Understanding and other worthy processes

The business world long ago realised the importance of a process for continuous improvement. Things like Total Quality Management (TQM) turned Japanese cars from flimsy to first-class in a generation. Unfortunately, most schools continue to operate based mostly on habits and engrained patterns.  Being the complex places they are also makes it tough to know which processes to use as the lever for change.  Amidst the buzzing of new ideas and Ed Tech ADD distractions, it probably sounds like the oldest, most boring solution, but there is one aspect to schooling that touches every student and teacher in every grade level and course: our curriculum. Unfortunately, I’ve found that an impoverished definition of curriculum often prevents this powerful tool from realising its potential.  Start with the vision: what amazing things do we want our students to achieve?  what does successful achievement look like?  Let’s make authentic performance of these achievements the heart of our curriculum.  To encourage success, let’s be specific about success criteria and provide samples of such achievement by previous students.  These measures are the kind of assessments that guide students and empower their ownership of learning.

jmctighe-tmarch-bangkokEducation is fortunate that we have evidence-based processes to use.  My preferred frameworks are Wiggins and McTighe’s Understanding and Schooling by Design®, Robert Marzano’s High Reliability Schools and integrations of research by folks like John Hattie and the team at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education.  Each provide processes that, used over time with quality-reviews, can empower a school’s continuous improvement.

My Best Chance to Make a Difference

Having arrived at this point, 2013-2014 was a period where I explored avenues where I could apply the above learnings to make the biggest difference.  This included a time in Cambodia working on the senior education team at a lapp-farewellrge NGO as well as focused-upskilling on my part with Jay McTighe who’s been generous and gracious in supporting my expertise in Understanding by Design to the extent that I am now a member of the McTighe & Associates Consulting group and we have co-authored an article.

However, as a pioneer (e.g., Filamentality) and believer in the power of smart software to accelerate what I call Next Era Ed, I entered into discussions with companies who support a richer view of curriculum.  My thinking was that working for the right company on a good team who was committed to evolving a “smart digital environment,”  I would be in contact with many more schools in an ongoing partnership as they develop their use of the software to continuously improve the achievement of their vision.  Fortunately, through a lucky synchronicity of timing and opportunity, I joined Hobsons at the beginning of 2015 as the lead consultant for teaching and learning.  What set Hobsons Edumate apart edumate-logowas that rather than only curriculum mapping, they offer a unified system of what I call “closed loop” curriculum: vision > unit design > online learning space > rich student assessment > back around to vision and unit design with revisions based on students’ actual performance.  So more than a “written” curriculum, we move past the “taught curriculum” and capture the “learned curriculum.”   In my role I essentially provide my “strategic friend” consulting, but also influence software design and help school leaders with pedagogical integration and change management.

After working mostly alone since starting in 1998, it’s a joy to be part of an enthusiastic team, driven by a passion for helping schools to authentically move from “schooling” and “teachers” to “learning” and “students.”  We’ve wanted this for decades and now, with 1:1 devices and evidence-based pedagogies, we can make the dream a reality.

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More PISA Support for “Understanding”

The recent release of results on PISA’s new assessment of Problem-Solving skills in participating countries supports a curriculum focused on deeper understanding and being able to transfer those conceptual understandings to new situations. The graph below (and the pages that follow it) illustrate the demand in three representative countries for skills in analysing and problem-solving over performing routine cognitive and manual skills.

PISA-Problem-solving Graphs

Consider referring colleagues in education to this information if they persist in the false belief that society wants students who can recall memorised information of perform basic skills.  As the executive summary of the report states, “In modern societies, all of life is problem-solving.

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Focus: Treatment for Education’s ADD

Reflections on treating Educational ADD

Here are four suggestions for dealing with the Attention Deficit Disorder that may keep your school from articulating its vision, its real purpose for existing.

1) Stop believing in silver bullets – Like any complex human endeavor, especially one that’s been practiced in a fairly specific way for decades, there is no single, easy, fix.  Because technology is so amazing, it’s understandable that we imagine some new gadget/software/environment/etc. could come along to instantly transform our schools into what we want them to be. But here’s a reality check: it’s just not going to happen. Let’s stop waiting for miracles and get to work creating one.

2) Don’t Jump to Solutions – All these great ideas that people come up with tend to be strategies designed to solve particular problems. Using them without considering the big picture is like taking someone else’s prescription because it works for them.  Or think about it in the military sense of “winning the battle, but losing the war.”  Schools are far too full of strategies that end up running at counter-purposes to each other. We initiate iPad programs and ban phones from classrooms.  We engage students in making Public Service Announcement videos, but block Tumblr. We deploy Khan Academy but don’t challenge students to apply mathematical understanding in authentic tasks.  So don’t even worry about, let alone debate or implement, new strategies until you’ve really dealt with #2 below.

3) Focus on your Vision – The incessant flow of “new ideas” assures distraction, perfectly illustrating the oft-quoted “Chinese Curse:” May you live in interesting times. Caught in the blur of the new, Education puts no attention on the significant.  What is the purpose of your school?  A purpose that every teacher, student, parent and community member knows, lives and breathes.  This is not a workshop brainstorm and a tagline on school stationery, but a systemic exploration and validation of your institution’s DNA. One fantastic attribute of the 21st Century is that we don’t all have to be the same.  Slavish uniformity is out and flourishing excellence is in.  So what will be your school’s claim to excellence?  Developing a real vision for your school will not be the product of an after school PD session (although it might start there), but rather a long-term effort that includes input from present and past students, parents and a wide-ranging exploration of what challenges and opportunities await our students throughout their lives.

4) Build a Curriculum that Realizes your Vision – Lucky for us, we have a means to achieve our vision. And, in the buzzing of new ideas and Ed Tech ADD distractions, it probably sounds like the oldest, most boring solution: our curriculum. It’s something that touches every student and teacher in every grade level and course.  Unfortunately, I’ve found that an impoverished definition of curriculum often prevents this powerful tool from realizing its potential.  Start with the vision: what amazing things do we want our students to achieve?  what does successful achievement look like?  Let’s make authentic performance of these achievements the heart of our curriculum.  To encourage success, let’s be specific about success criteria and provide samples of such achievement by previous students.  This is the kind of assessment that guides students and empowers their ownership for learning.  None of this will happen over night and none of it is easy.  But nothing in teaching is easy so why not focus on what will make a real difference?

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