My goal has long been to help educators and schools nurture meaningful student success through authentic experiences. This achieves overt goals for results as well as tapping into student passions and often this requires 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 early days
This journey begins before I ever became a classroom teacher. Living the life of the struggling young writer, I discovered three things that would resonate right up to this very day. First, that the visceral sense of learning and creativity was a joy and something that unites us as human beings. Second, that technology could fuel this joy: using even the rudimentary word processing programs of the 1980s proved to me that computers accelerated creativity and professional quality performances. Third, that I was called to be an educator. Thus, when I became a classroom teacher in 1986, of course I integrated word processing into all my English classes. Eventually this lead to writing grants to get more powerful computers capable of multimedia programming and desktop publishing. These were exciting days when I also served as English faculty head, school IT coordinator and district technology mentor while also pursuing a Masters degree in educational technology and instructional design. I found the combination of studying the latest learning theories at university a perfect complement to my days in the classroom and on school leadership committees. As busy and exciting as those days were, something happened in 1994 that changed my life: I encountered the World Wide Web. As a part-time instructor in the university’s teacher education program and recent graduate in educational technology, I was exposed to this amazing new thing that was exciting so many of my colleagues. At this time I was fortunate to gain a fellowship at the university where three of us were charged with creating things that would help teachers, students and librarians use the Web. As much as I loved classroom teaching, after almost a decade, I wanted to pursue two new challenges: focusing on creating the best learning experiences I could without the myriad demands all teachers confront, and most importantly, having more time for the wife and two children life had beneficently provided amidst this blur of professional activity.
“Working the web for education”
During the period of this fellowship at San Diego State University, I worked closely with my former Professor Bernie Dodge to develop the WebQuest approach, which quickly became one of the first buzzwords amongst Web-connected educators. Our fellowship team also developed some of the early Internet destinations like Blue Web’n and Filamentality. These too were exciting days as we discovered real world resources and collaborations that could make learning in classrooms more Real, Rich and Relevant (a new “3Rs”). Collaborating with the other two fellows gave me a taste for how great it is to work on a small team of like-minded, but variously-skilled, colleagues.
Bright ideas for education
When the fellowship ended in 1997, we decided to move to my wife’s homeland of Australia. Entering an entirely different job market, it was only natural for me to keep developing Web-based learning strategies and Web sites from my small home office in rural Australia. This early flurry of work included activities like the Searching for China WebQuest, the comprehensive visual arts site Eyes on Art and producing the online design environment Web-and-Flow which guided teachers to creating their own range of Web-based learning activities. My main audience were “cutting edge-ucators” who wanted to promote authentic education and push the boundaries to create inspiring rich and meaningful learning activities for students. But some problems quickly became apparent: to make any real difference, “rich and meaningful learning activities” can’t be a one-off or something students only did in grade six with Ms Tech-Savvy. 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 classroom students to engage in great learning activities, but to make a real difference, I realised that the only true solutions from this point on had to be systemic. Unless a whole school or system wasn’t transforming itself toward this learning-centred vision, the spirit of inquiry would find it hard to flourish in the dominant mass production approach we inherited from last century.
Developing new models
To this end, for the past decade, I have focused on developing several “whole-school” models designed to help the shift from mass production schooling to personally meaningful learning. The overarching framework is Next Era Ed and includes two distinct models, The Edge-ucators Way and CEQ•ALL (“seek all”). You can find out more about these on my website and the links above, but a quick overview is that Next Era Ed defines the key triggers schools can leverage to promote systemic change toward personal learning. The Edge-ucators Way describes three “new routines” as core classroom activities. CEQ•ALL provides a framework and rubric for shifting the management of learning over to students.
Being the change we envision
All of the sudden – it seems! — my two sons had ventured off into the world and I no longer had to stay close to home as part-time consultant and full-time single dad. Since then I’ve been exploring my “next chapter” options where 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 large NGO, as well as focused up-skilling 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 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.
Enter Hobsons As of December 15 - one month after returning from Phnom Penh - I was fortunate to reach agreement with Hobsons and to take a new role that hits all of my goals. What set Hobsons Edumate apart was that they offer a unified system of what I call “closed loop” curriculum where a school’s “Big Vision” for student success is embedded in every curriculum unit’s design, then these rich units transfer directly to an online learning space where students engage with rich activities and learning tasks that embody that initial big vision. 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 in this senior position I get to do much of what I’ve been doing with schools since 1994, but now do this now as part of an excellent team, influence software design and help school leaders with pedagogical integration and change management. After working mostly alone since starting ozline.com 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.