Thoughts on teaching, technology, learning and life in an era of change.

Archive for January, 2009

Amazing Stockton Beach, NSW
January 17th, 2009

Stockton Beach sand dunes, looking south.

Earlier this week Shao Ping and I had the opportunity to explore Stockton Beach, south of Port Stephens in NSW. The sand dunes of Stockton beach stretch for 32 kilometres and in some areas reach 1 kilometre inland.

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We explored the dunes late one afternoon and then went on an organised tour the following day. The dunes are moving approximately 4 metres in a northerly direction each year.

Northern end of the dunes near Anna Bay.
Tank traps are visible in the foreground.

The dunes feature tank traps that were constructed to deter an invasion by the Imperial Japanese Army during the Second World War.

The dunes can be as high as 30 metres.

The earliest inhabitants of this region were the members of the Worimi Aboriginal tribe.  The middens created by the tribe during the previous 12,000 years can be seen at many points along the length of the beach. The middens appear and disappear with the ever shifting sands.

Tin City

As well there is the intriguing Tin City. This is a collection of shacks that had their origins during the Great Depression. They were built and occupied by impoverished Australians. The shacks made way for an army camp during the Second World War and were rebuilt after the war. At this time four men still live in the remaining shacks. They were utilised as a set during the Mad Max movie. It is hard to believe that individuals could live in such an environment. They utilise solar and wind power as well as a groundwater supply. Keeping out the sand must be an ongoing challenge for the four inhabitants.

Guess who?

If you are ever in the Port Stephens and Newcastle region of NSW the Stockton dunes are well worth a visit. Shao Ping and I certainly had a jolly good time. I have uploaded a gallery of photographs of the dunes to my main web site.

Back home…
January 13th, 2009

Arrived back home this morning after a short break. Helping sister who is stuck in Fiji due to storms there. Making calls, contacting DFAT, etc.

She should be fine. Sitting around an airport with three children for several days cannot be fun ‘though.

Read a newspaper lately?
January 10th, 2009

Do you enjoy reading the newspaper? I particularly enjoy sitting down in a place where I can spread out with a broadsheet sized newspaper like The Australian, Sydney Morning Herald or the Straits Times. I once lived in a flat with a north facing balcony. Stretching out on the living room floor on a Saturday with the winter sun streaming in from the north was such a simple joy. The Herald would be spread around the floor. I would flick from this section to that.

I do not read the paper in any particular order. I might start with the readers’ letters and the editorial. I may then begin reading the news. Taking in the words of the journalists is always enjoyable. The variety, the depth, the photography. 

Turning the pages. Turning back. Reading the words. Looking at the photographs. Which article should I read first? Which next?

Feeling the paper, getting print on my fingers. Skimming paragraphs. Then there are the comic strips. The Wizard of ID, BC, Hagar The Horrible and so on. There may also be crossword puzzles or similar to pose a challenge. Concert reviews, film reviews, travel destinations, readers’ photos. There is so much material to digest. I would make little discoveries along the way. 

Reading the newspaper can be like opening a present. You never know what to expect. Sure, you know you are receiving a gift but what will it actually be?

Year ago I had a colleague that always headed to the obituaries first of all. Imagine reading your own obituary! I think the readers’ letters always get my attention straight up. Written a few myself over the years. Topics that have driven me to wield the pen have included our former PM John Howard, racism and immaculate utes with metallic paint jobs.

The Internet is a mighty handy bit of gear but I hope the newspaper manages to survive… at least on a weekly basis.

If newspapers were to disappear what would you miss?

January 8th, 2009

I have been struggling with this blog of late. Not long back I received some nasty “anonymous” comments on this blog. Some of you may remember the Twitter exchange at the time.

Anyway, I ascertained the identity of the authors. It was a shock.

Well, I feel I have been robbed of something. I want to write but I wonder will these same individuals comment again or possibly say something to me in the future. Even knowing that they are possibly reading this is a perturbing thought.

These are the thoughts that are holding me back. I have even considered closing shop. 

I am full of ideas and plans but without a platform to share them. I have been robbed of that by their actions.

Yes! The Digital Natives debate is alive and well…
January 8th, 2009

I am always happy to see the Digital Immigrants~Digital Natives debate back on the front page of blogs. I remember reading Marc Prensky’s original article that proposed the immigrants~natives idea when I was an instructional designer with the now defunct eLearning company ICUS (it was acquired by Academee). I was designing eLearning sites for Nokia and Singapore Airlines back then.

The other day Chris Betcher shared a range of views on this debate that echo my sentiments exactly. Beautifully. Please head over to his informative Betchablog to consume his well composed thoughts.

As I commented over on Chris’ blog this immigrants~natives debate is a recurring theme for me. My return to the classroom was an anti-climax in many respects. I was hoping to achieve wonders with the students following my technological sojourn at university and whilst working in Singapore.

I was surprised to find that the secondary school population was not overflowing with digital natives hungry for cutting edge challenges in a digital sense. In fact there was and is a sizable group that just want notes on the board and to be told what to study for in the exam.

I once wrote a post concerning the premise that adults, including teachers, are “Digital Immigrants” and that the students that we teach are “Digital Natives”. This terminology was coined by Marc Prensky some time back. I have used the terminology on a number of occasions myself. During the last couple of years, having worked closely with secondary school students, I have begun questioning the premise that underlies the terminology. In that original post I concluded that “perhaps they are not Digital Natives at all but simply Digital Dilettantes… they are, and I quote from a dictionary, an amateur or dabbler; especially, one who follows an art or a branch of knowledge sporadically, superficially, or for amusement only.” 

I would like to complement Chris’ thoughts with my own and to that end I reproduce some of the words I had put down back then…

“Last Saturday David Thornburg wrote a post where he expresses regret that he had utilised the terms in the past. He also wrote that the terms were demeaning to educators. As he points out it is true that today’s students have grown up in a world where computers are reasonably ubiquitous but one cannot assume that this fact makes the students any more tech savvy than their teachers, or parents, for that matter.

The author of the Connectivism Blog has written an article critical of Marc Prensky’s position. He picks up on David Thornburg’s apology regarding the terminology as well. I cannot do it justice here. I strongly recommend that all interested parties read his views. He concludes “…aside from insulting an entire generation and coddling to the needs of younger learners, Prensky doesn’t provide us with a compelling model forward (other than “use digital games”).”

The author also makes a reference to “technology weariness” and “resistance to technology” among educators. He adds that hyped-up educational technology that fails the promise to deliver will only hurt future applications of these processes in teaching and learning.

I am now going to read Jamie McKenzie’s critique of Marc Prensky’s position in his article, “Digital Nativism, Digital Delusions and Digital Deprivation.” Jamie sets out, point by point, his views regarding Marc Prensky’s position.

Readers may think it curious that a teacher that readily incorporates technologies in the teaching and learning curriculum should post articles that seemingly go against the grain. Many major speakers and evangelists preach the premise that our students are the “digital natives”. I do not believe that we can make this blanket assertion for all students. I am a not alone in this belief.

I believe in a pragmatic and commonsense approach to educational technologies. [This is beginning to sound like a creed]. I have seen hundred of thousands of dollars pumped into multimedia and eLearning projects that are now idle. I have seen revenues in excess of six figures devoted to eLearning projects that are now obsolete (in under five years). I feel that is such a waste. I am yet to crystallise my approach but I essentially believe that educational technologies must only be incorporated into the teaching and learning curriuclum when it is appropriate and not simply “becasue it was there”. The application of the technology should

  • exactly match the specific knowledge, skill and attitudinal outcomes
  • complement, and not exclude, other tactics and strategies, traditional and otherwise
Perhaps I have achieved success with my recurring educational technology workshops in Singapore and elsewhere due to my pragmatic approach. I approach each workshop from the perspective of a down-to-earth and busy teacher. A realistic approach should be taken with the tool that is educational technology. Practical considerations should be weighed up above all else.”