Reforming the Annual Reflection on Professional Learning

The Annual Reflection on Professional Learning (ARPL) is, I believe, a colossal waste of effort, but not for the reasons you may think...

Knowledge Building

Schools are filled with very creative and insightful professionals who, every year, craft statements or artifacts that reflect on, and make sense of key learning and experiences in their professional lives. The reflections exemplify key components of instructional leadership, namely reflective practice and a focus on learning for both students and educators alike. As a form of knowledge building, these documents offer valuable insight into the ongoing development of educators at every point in the profession from first-year through to retirement.

And what happens to all this knowledge?

It sits in a central office filing cabinet somewhere never to be seen again.

Lost Opportunities

As a policy tool, the ARPL successfully engages educators in reflective practice but misses the mark when it comes to Public Practice. Instructional leadership requires communication and translation of knowledge from the knowledge creator to the knowledge consumer. Without knowledge translation, the ARPL is little more than an exercise in compliance.

So, do we give up on the ARPL?

Absolutely not - but we do need to approach it differently.

The Profession is the Audience

What if the ARPL was approached as a knowledge building activity - still reflective and still personal, but it would be understood that they would be made public. The audience for these reflections would not be simply the central office or school administrator, but The Profession. We reflect and record our experiences making that learning accessible as a contribution to the betterment of teachers everywhere.

Writing the ARPL in this context connects us as professionals. We become part of a larger community of contributors to the profession, not just practitioners. In submitting their reflections, educators would supply a list of key-words and themes so they can be tagged for easy retrieval. They can also specify whether or not they want their names attached to the published content after they have been reviewed by administrators. The ARPL maintains its policy objective of encouraging reflective practice while gaining tremendous value as a knowledge building and translation tool.

What do you think? Would you approach the ARPL differently if it was going to be shared? Would you be interested in reading others' reflections? Do you think there is value in sharing our professional learning?

Article reflection, "The community of inquiry as a basis for knowledge and learning: The case of history" by Peter Seixas

Reflections on the article, "The community of inquiry as a basis for knowledge and learning: The case of history" by Peter Seixas.

Seixas, P. (1993). The community of inquiry as a basis for knowledge and learning: The case of history. American Educational Research Journal Summer, 30(2), 305–324.
The author describes how history is less about finding the truth and more about finding meaning. He describes how constructivist approaches To history see communities of interested people come together to find meaning in a text or event.  Some value in this process is the continual revisiting of understandings based on current experiences. The danger is that we lose sight of the lessons of the past and move down unproductive or dangerous paths. My own sense is that a continual revisiting, at least for the learner, has tremendous value inasmuch as he or she deconstructs an event or a piece of knowledge and comes to a deeper understanding of the meaning. His mention of historical relativism made me wonder whether there can be any shared agreement on what is/was true that transcends time. Are there historical experiences or understandings that can be taken as fact in any context and at any point in the future. Perhaps it is the notion of pluralism, that many points of view revisiting historical events calls us to reconfirm our shared understandings of what is right and wrong, or true or false. Perhaps it is less a matter of reinterpreting the past and more a matter of revisiting and re-understanding history that makes it vital and meaningful in today's context. As someone on the periphery of academic history, it seems to me less important the way how history is studied and more important that history BE studied.

In constructivist learning approaches, students come together to make meaning. The real deep learning comes from the analysis of their meaning-making, and holding their suppositions up to scrutiny. Like the academic historian, students are faced with revising their suppositions or abandoning them if no evidence can be found to support their position. The question arises about students making meaning that is logically or scientifically incorrect. This is where others in the learning community come together to explore evidence and arrive at a better conclusion. A phrase I frequently use with my students is "history is always changing." This is meant to communicate that history, like science, is simply our current best understanding given the evidence that we have. As new evidence emerges, our understandings may change.

Essential skills in history that are not facts, figures, and events, but processes of inquiry and criticism. Learning to read and observe objectively, construct hypotheses, and support those statements with evidence are the real critical skills. For both students and historians, communities can emerge around ideas. James Paul Gee describes how the Internet affords us virtual spaces that allow for engagement with others regardless of space and time. He calls these "affinity spaces", spaces that bring together people and ideas on topics of interest. Gee puts forth that the Internet allows communities of inquiry to emerge easily, to exist for as long as they need to exist, and compile artifacts of that engagement in a lasting record.

The author talks about the audience for the work of the different groups. In 1993 when this article was written, the Internet was really just emerging into common use. Today, however, the Internet is ubiquitous,  And the audience can be understood as the community now. High school student may access academic work making the author part of that student's community. Discussion boards and Internet forums invite participation from anyone interested in the topic. These participants are likely to have a wide range of experience and understandings. Collectively, they contribute, consume, and make meaning in that virtual space.
Gee, J. P. (2013). The anti-education era: Creating smarter students through digital learning. Macmillan.

Defining teaching, learning, creativity, and innovation

In a course titled, "Innovation in Teaching and Learning" we were challenged to come up with our own definitions of teaching, learning, creativity, and innovation. Here are mine and the rationale for each. I expect as I continue with the course and indulge in more reading the definitions will be unpacked, nuanced, and refined. In the spirit of learning out loud, here they are.

Creativity is the cognitive exploration of possibilities beyond or outside conventional experience or practice.

Paulus & Nijstad as cited in Runco (2004) offer a brief definition of creativity as, “the development of original ideas that are useful or influential.” This places heavy emphasis on the utility of, or audience for an idea. I'm not so convinced that utility is an essential element of creativity though. Looking at the criteria by which creativity is measured in the literature offers some insight. Hocevar & Bachelor (1989) surveyed existing studies of creativity and established eight categories from their findings. Two measures look at the creative process: divergent thinking, and attitudes and interests. Two more, personality and biographical inventories, relate to personal characteristics of those deemed to be creative. The remaining categories relate to identifying creativity namely, ratings by teachers, peers, and supervisors, judgements of products, eminence, and self-reported creative activities and achievements. There is nothing in those categories that speak to the consumers or utility of creativity. It seems to me that creativity is a process rather than a product. It is the exertion of energy to search beyond conventional bounds for inspiration. I have no problem considering an idea as a product of creativity even if its influences are not obvious anywhere in the world.

Interestingly, research in computational creativity (programming computers to be creative) looks for systems that produce both expected and novel results which are suitable to the purpose and have high value (Jordanous, 2012). Because computers are designed to perform certain functions, computational creativity is purpose driven.

Hocevar, D., & Bachelor, P. (1989). A taxonomy and critique of measurements used in the study of creativity. In J. A. Glover, R. R. Ronning, & C. R. Reynolds (Eds.), Handbook of Creativity (pp. 53–76). New York, NY: Springer Science + Business Media. Retrieved from

Jordanous, A. (2012). A Standardised Procedure for Evaluating Creative Systems: Computational Creativity Evaluation Based on What it is to be Creative. Cognitive Computation4(3), 246–279.

Runco, M. A. (2004). Creativity. Annual Review of Psychology55(1), 657–687.

Innovations are processes, products or practices outside conventional experience that result from the application of creative thinking.

This definition emphasizes that innovation has some tangible element while creativity is more cerebral and is supported by Hennessey’s (2010) definition of innovation as, |the successful implementation of creative ideas”. Creativity is the impetus and innovation is the result or product of creativity. It is interesting that Hennessey emphasizes, “successful” implementation – it raises the question whether utility is a necessary element of innovation. It brings to mind the story, probably apocryphal, of Edison describing how he had been successful in discovering 700 ways not to make a light bulb.

“… academic achievement and creativity would lead to innovation, pushing fields such as information technology…”

“… focus on methods to foster organizational climates conducive to innovation.”

“Management must truly want and be committed to creativity and be willing to sacrifice short term results for innovation.”

“… creative abrasion can result in successful innovation.”

Adams, K. (2005). The Sources of Innovation and CreativityEducation. Retrieved from

Hennessey, B. A., & Amabile, T. M. (2010). Creativity. Annual Review of Psychology61(1), 569–598.

Teaching is a behaviour intended to transfer knowledge to another person.

This is a very brief and broad definition of teaching intended to distill the essence of what we understand to be “teaching”. Reflecting on the verb form of the word, there is, I propose, some intentionality or purpose on the part of the actor – if someone is teaching, they mean to produce a change in the learner’s knowledge state.

Understand this nuance in contrast to a child hearing a parent use profanity. The parent is teaching the child to profane, but it is unlikely that the behaviour is intended to develop that skill in the child. In this circumstance, I would argue that the parent is not “teaching” even though the child is learning. By the same token, consider a child informing a younger sibling of a “bad word” and cajoling them to use it in a certain way. The older sibling is acting with the goal of having the learner acquire knowledge of the word. I would argue that the older sibling is, in this case, teaching a learner.

It raises interesting questions about those who are not necessarily teachers, but who are moral examples or role models. Is Oprah a teacher? Nelson Mandela? Pope Benedict? Bill Gates?

A quick peek at Bruner’s (1966) book, “Toward a Theory of Instruction” throws another interesting nuance into the discussion. He describes “instruction”, which is in the realm of teaching, to be behaviours intended to facilitate growth and development.

Both terms, “teaching” and “learning” offer fertile ground for exploration and debate and I have far more questions than answers after this exercise. I expect that these simple little statements will be unpacked over the next few weeks.

There are people whose roles put them into positions of influence and the teaching element is an acknowledged part of that. Oprah, Pope Benedict, Gates, etc. recognize their influence and use their example to teach others. Incidental teachers include parents for sure, but also celebrities who are watched and imitated by others. In this respect, everyone is a teacher. I think, though, to consider one's self a teacher, there has to be some intention behind it. The act of teaching is purposeful. Learning, on the other hand, happens all the time. All of us are always learning to different degrees.

However, since writing this, I encountered the idea that people often actively RESIST learning seeking to assimilate new ideas into their existing schemas. In doing this, they avoid the often challenging work of disassembling one’s own notions and holding them against a different world view.

Learning is the lasting acquisition of knowledge resulting in a change of attitude, world-view, behaviour, or capacity.

While “teaching”, I suggested, has an element of intentionality, learning does not. Learning can be intentional, incidental, and accidental. How do we know if someone is learning? There will be some change in understanding or skills. They will possess some capacity of thought or behaviour that they did not before the learning took place.

It is probably worth exploring whether an understanding of learning should consider temporal bounds – for example, should the acquisition of knowledge that is temporarily stored for immediate use and quickly forgotten be considered “learning”? Does knowledge have to be retained for some time before we should call it “learned”?

Perhaps the phone number scenario is better described as, “remembering” inasmuch as the number is simply held for a period of time though it does, while remembered, afford the learner / rememberer the capacity to make a phone call.

Thinking more on remembering, it could be that an experience long in the past can be recalled to provide a lesson for the present which results in a change in understanding or skills. The learner makes new meaning from old experiences.

And what does it mean to "make meaning"? Is that what we do with learning? Perhaps "understanding" is the act of making meaning from our learning.

Fun thinking about words we toss around as though we know what they mean!


Article reflection: Paul Smeyers, "What Philosophy can and cannot do for education."

Facebook Wittgenstein

This post is a reflection on Paul Smeyers' article titled, "What philosophy can and cannot do for education."

"debate ... does not lead to conclusions; rather, its function is to make those involved sensitive to the way something can be appreciated"

 Once the author explores Wittgenstein's propositions linking language with meaning, he eventually describes the importance of literature as artistic applications of language in order to explore and share understandings of the human condition.

Wittgenstein's proposition 7 famously said, "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent."

Smeyers connects this with the notion that there are aspects to the human condition and experience that are beyond words - that language has no capacity to communicate effectively about matters of the soul, or deep emotion. These, Smeyers seems to suggest, are the domain of art rather than literature. We experience art and feel our way to understanding through "perspicuous representation" which, I believe, can also be made with language though Wittgenstein might point out the vast distance between the word and the meaning.

Therapy is an intervention intended to fix a problem. The means by which the problems are fixed is Philosophy. The tools of philosophy are myriad - different conceptual frameworks within which related tools are used to deconstruct, analyze, and understand the issue working toward a solution. As educators equipped with these tools, we can better deconstruct messages, find meaning in texts, recognize the lenses through which our students see the world, and improve our facility with communication to engage with and share thoughts and experiences with others.

Have to admit that this article was a hard slog. I dabbled in linguistics for my undergrad and read a little philosophy here and there, but I needed a lot of support to get through this article. Ended up reaching out on Facebook to some friends in the thinking business.They filled in some blanks and connected me with a couple of explanatory papers on Wittgenstein's propositions. I'm sure there is a lot I missed from the article though I certainly know a lot more now than I did before! Anxious to hear other's reflections and reactions to the article!

Thanks to Michael Mauws, Phil Veldhuis, and Luke O'Connor for sharing their insight and understanding of Wittgenstein's role and message.

Smeyers, P. (2006). What philosophy can and cannot do for education. Studies in Philosophy and Education, 25(1-2), 1–18.

Wittgenstein: "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent."

Wittgenstein: "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent."

Can we learn without learning institutions?

Ivan Illich would have shouted out an unequivocal YES to that questions. In his 1970 book, "Deschooling Society" Illich proclaims that educational institutions do little to achieve their intended ends and at an extraordinary cost. He pointed to the barriers erected by systems and bureaucratization thus separating citizens from their needs. The very institution designed to meet the need become incapable of doing so because of the focus on process over people,

Illich goes on to suggest solutions, namely getting rid of the institutional provision of education services in favour of personal learning networks based on interest and need. He seems to have sparked some response as there is much evidence today of Illich's thoughts in action:

  • The USA has some experiments with school voucher systems allowing families to apply principles of the market economy to schooling. They can take their education credit as a voucher and selecting what they deem to be the best school for their child. This breaks the government monopoly on education and encourages competition which may find more efficient ways to produce a better product.
  • Charter schools bring diversity to the education market offering school experiences with different focuses that may better meet the child's interests.
  • MOOCs, or Massive Open Online Courses bring people together to teach and support each other in a shared learning experience on topics of common interest. The institution, if one is involved, may offer little more than a framework for matching people and content.
  • Affinity Spaces - James Paul Gee in his book, "The anti-education era: Creating smarter students through digital learning" describe current practice and potential for online spaces in education. Discussion boards, forums, online chats, blogs, social media pages, each of these can serve as a virtual meeting space and repository for content and discussion. Members come and go and are more or less engaged depending on their needs. Gee calls these "Affinity Spaces". People come together over a topic of interest and teach each other. No institution required.
  • Social Constructivism / Connectivism are two learning theories that see knowledge and community as inextricably intertwined. Social Constructivists asserts that individuals make meaning through reflection on shared experience and through the co-creation of products that embody their new understandings. Connectivists see knowledge as distributed throughout a population; the learner navigates the network as both consumer of information and creator of meaning.

Each of these examples seems to reflect Illiich's exhortation to wrest free the act of learning from the terrible clutches of the bloated bureaucracy. Now, whether they are all good and effective in their own right, or whether they too will be adopted and bureaucratized in time is yet to be seen.

Do Edcamps do what they intend to do?

Do Edcamps work?

How do we know Edcamps are effective? Do we even know what the goals are for an Edcamp? As a format for professional development, there is tremendous appeal for participants. Attendees invite others to a space and time to talk about issues that are important to them. How to organize one is clear, the process is clear... there is tremendous autonomy in the weekend format where participants are self-selected and enthusiastic to pursue professional development (PD) on their own time. Where the Edcamp format is used as part of a mandated PD experience, the audience is not self-selected which, one would think, would change the flavour of the event.

What are the goals of an Edcamp?

In order to measure whether an Edcamp is successful, it is useful to know what the intended goals are. The Edcamp Wiki advises Edcamp organizers to determine their own goals. It is clear that Edcamp is a process, a format or framework for engagement that accommodates both individual goals and an event-wide content focus. Nevertheless, it seems to me there must be some common themes or threads one could identify across Edcamps. I started with a quick poll in the ISTE Commons discussion board asking the question, "What is the purpose of an Edcamp?" Responses shared the notion of connecting with others, sharing ideas. ISTE Edcamp Purpose

I also gathered 41 explicit goal statements from Edcamp sites, media coverage, and posts on Edcamps. Three themes stand out as goals of an edcamp: professional development, professional networking, and idea exchange. Individual participants will have their own goals, and the organizers may have identified a theme or focus for the event, but the Edcamp experience seems to orbit around those three elements.

The SimpleK12 Complete Guide to Edcamps (p.21) suggest some survey questions for organizers to use after the event.

  1. What did you think of the physical location?
  2. What did you think of the date of the event?
  3. What did you think of the length of the sessions?
  4. How did you first hear about this EdCamp?
  5. Do you have any suggestions for publicizing the event next year?
  6. What was your favorite part about the day?
  7. What do you think could be improved upon for next year?
  8. Would you be interested in being on the organizing committee for next year’s EdCamp?

Most of these questions are helpful in guiding subsequent event management but focus primarily on logistical issues. Questions six and seven are very open-ended questions eliciting likes and possible improvements in the future. What is missing are questions that probe the extent to which Edcamp helps participants meet their goals, their exposure to new ideas, their networking opportunities, and professional development.

As a voluntary weekend activity, Edcamps don't really require any great degree of accountability; that participants clearly find some value in the experience is probably sufficient to keep organizing and attending these events. However, with more districts and divisions adopting the practice within the school day as a PD event where participants are paid to attend, there is a greater need to demonstrate value for the investment. Some limited research into the contributions of idea spread, professional networking, and professional development offer a framework for exploring Edcamp's potential impact on teacher practice and student learning and are explained below.

Idea Spread

Emerging research in social networking and idea exchange has clearly shown a link between highly effective teams and the frequency and intensity of social interactions (Pentland, 2010, 2014). Frequent contact amongst all members of an organization is one hallmark of an effective team. Pentland’s (2010) studies empirically demonstrated that frequency of contact, regardless of the content, is highly correlated with team efficacy. He also indicates that networks can be engineered for maximum efficacy. He distinguishes between engagement and exploration describing everyday conversations with colleagues as engagement, and accessing ideas and resources from beyond one’s daily experience as exploration.

Professional Networking

Professional networking can be understood as having three primary activities: creation, maintenance, and access (Nardi, Whittaker, & Schwarz, 2000, 2002; Rajagopal, Brinke, Van Bruggen, & Sloep, 2012). Network creation involves connecting with new individuals with whom you intend to receive or exchange information. Network maintenance is keeping contact with others through ongoing information exchange. Maintenance need not always involve task-oriented conversations; keeping up-to-date with the life and goals of those in your network also contributes to team efficacy (Veletsianos, 2012). Network access is the use of resources in one’s network in order to complete a work-related task.

Professional Development

Professional development is most effective when it has the teacher connect content to their own practice, when it focuses on the day-to-day needs of the teacher, and if it is part of a larger organizational movement in a particular direction (Darling-Hammond, Wei, Andree, Richardson, & Orphanos, 2009). If these conditions are met, the teacher is more likely to experience lasting change in their practice. Because participants are in active conversation rather than receiving information through a presentation, they are more engaged. Darling-Hammond et al (2009) indicate that teachers are more likely to try something new if they have seen it modeled, or have had the chance to play with the ideas first-hand. Finally, when professional development is connected to common organizational goals, it is likely to be more effective. Where each individual is pursuing their own professional goals during Edcamp, it was made explicit in the introduction that our shared goals were to spread ideas and network with each other.

Preliminary Edcamp Survey

A simple and brief draft survey was created to measure these three areas and was tested at an Edcamp on February 5th in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Extreme caution must be exercised with this data due to the combination of the survey’s brevity and wide scope. With only one question targeting each of nine items, there is a large margin of error, not least of which may be the validity of the question itself. However, the data gathered does suggest participants found value in the experience. Based on anecdotal comments included on the survey, there was also widespread satisfaction with the Edcamp format. Over 80% of the responses for all categories and questions fell on the “like me” side of the scale with more than 65% indicating “True” and “Very True” responses in all categories.

Questions 1 - 3 focus on ideas exchange, questions 4-6 focus on professional networking, and questions 7-9 address professional development. Each of these areas was broken down into three sub-categories each addressed by a single question.


Exchange of Ideas

1.      I had casual conversations with people from schools other than my own. Targeting EXPLORATION


-  To what extent are participants getting to know others, having casual conversations, learning the "other story".

-  Conversations outside the context of focused sessions.

-  Social conversations where people learn about each other and their situations.

2.      During sessions, I had conversations on topics related to teaching and learning. Targeting INVESTMENT


-  To what extent are participants engaged in conversations about teaching and learning, taking in and processing professional content.

-  Conversations within sessions that are content focused.

-  Professional conversations where people learn about and explore specific ideas related to teaching and learning.

3.      In casual conversations, I shared with other people the ideas I encountered today. Targeting IDEA SPREAD


-  To what extent are participants engaged in talking about newly encountered ideas.

-  Conversations outside the context of focused sessions.

-  Social conversations where people share what they have learned or experienced at the event.

Exchange of ideas section based on the work of Alex Pentland (Pentland, 2010, 2014)


Professional Networking

4.      In the future, I will connect with people I met today to explore ideas in teaching and learning. Targeting BUILDING LEARNING COMMUNITY


-  To what extent are participants establishing new professional connections.

-  Implied exchange of contact information and intention to engage after the event.

5.      I re-connected with people today that I don’t often get to see. Targeting MAINTAINING LEARNING COMMUNITY


-  To what extent are participants nurturing established professional connections.

-  Implied history of contact and satisfaction in the connection.

6.      I sought out specific people today to explore ideas in teaching and learning. Targeting ACTIVATING LEARNING COMMUNITY


-  To what extent are participants engaging with established professional connections.

-  Implied need/desire for contact and professional engagement.

Professional Networking section based on (Nardi et al., 2000, 2002; Pentland, 2014; Rajagopal et al., 2012)


Professional Learning

7.      I learned things today that will improve my professional practice. Targeting IMPROVED PRACTICE


To what extent did the Edcamp experience relate to participant’s professional skills.


8.      I learned things today that will improve student learning. Targeting STUDENT LEARNING


To what extent did the Edcamp experience likely to help learners under the participant’s care.


9.      I learned things today that will contribute to my school’s priorities and goals. Targeting SCHOOL IMPROVEMENT


To what extent did the Edcamp experience relevant to the participant’s larger community.


Professional Learning section based on (Darling-Hammond et al., 2009)

Some initial observations:

  • Some participants rated their experience in networking as very low but explained that they used their time working with a small number of known colleagues to collaborate on learning activities.
  • The results for the PD section (Q7-9) were tightly clustered in the extreme positive end of the scale suggesting the wording of the questions contributed to social desirability bias. This section will have to be revisited.

I'd really appreciate hearing from others who are pursuing similar lines of inquiry into open space type professional engagement. Thoughts on the question wording, or supplemental questions to probe more deeply in these areas are also welcome.


Four design considerations for connectivist learning spaces

Why Connectivism?

Each year the number of students with access to mobile devices increases (Rideout, 2013). A 2011 UK study revealed one in five third grade students have their own mobile device, a ratio that narrowed to four in five for high school (Englander, 2011). Another study reported close to 40% of preschool children under the age of two also have significant exposure to mobile technology (Wagner, 2013).

The internet has undeniably changed just about every aspect of what we do, how we interact, and how we think. Growth in knowledge-based sectors outpaced all other areas at the end of the 20th century (OECD, 1996) providing evidence of technology’s impact on the economy and the way we think about work. Current and future work skills require creative applications of broad knowledge in technology-infused, socially collaborative environments (Davies, Fidler, & Gorbis, 2011). Ubiquitous access to information sources challenges traditional content-delivery models of education. Mobile technology is, therefore, a disruptive force in education (Koszalka & Ntloedibe-Kuswani, 2010). Pedagogical changes and new ways of planning learners’ educational experiences reflect emerging social and economic realities.

Leveraging social connections for constructivist learning and freeing students from the constraints of the traditional classroom, mobile challenges traditional ideas about the ways people: engage with content (Tu, Sujo-Montes, Yen, Chan, & Blocher, 2012), interact with each other (Baek, Bae, & Jang, 2013; Huang et al., 2010), use technology (Baber, 2001; Watkins, Kitner, & Mehta, 2012), interact with physical spaces (Ackerman, 2013; Jones, Williams, & Fleuriot, 2003), and demands people make of a physical space (Leather & Marinho, 2009).

New approaches to teaching and learning that recognize evolutions in communication technology and the corresponding changes in the social and economic landscape, focus less on teachers and more on collaborators, less on direct instruction and more on inquiry, and develop understandings of process and metacognition (Cook, 2012; del Moral, Cernea, & Villalustre, 2013). Such approaches, Wilson (2011) says, engage learners in self-regulation of their own learning by pursuing their own goals in discipline focused, authentic, and collaborative activities. Learners not only develop content knowledge, but also high-demand skills such as communication, critical thinking, collaboration, and creativity (White, 2013).

In Connectivist Learning theory, learners collaborate to make meaning through inquiry using technology to engage with “communities of practice, knots, coalitions, intentional networks, and ad hoc transient communities” (Chatti, Jarke, & Quix, 2010) creating external models of their internal processes and understandings (Beven, 2004). Connectivism harnesses the affordances of mobile technology to bring learners, thinkers, researchers, and innovators together into a learning community where participants co-construct knowledge as a group and increase understanding as individuals. Pursuing topics of their own interest in fluid learning communities that include individuals within and outside the school, the teacher no longer serves as the source of content learning. Rather, the teacher offers organizational support and instruction on processes and metacognition.

Designing for Connectivism


Learners need resources with which to acquire, engage, process, and create knowledge, and spaces, both physical and virtual, to reflect, collaborate, and present understanding. As such, demands of physical spaces are changing. Traditional rows or pods of desktop computers with a front-of-class focal point do not suit the connectivist model of collaboration and social engagement. Rather, learners need reconfigurable spaces with technology that supplements or enhances their own personal mobile technology (e.g. projectors, screen casting, A/V recording tools, interactive projections, whiteboards, printer, scanner, scribing tools). Such spaces offer physical arrangements evocative of the purpose of, and philosophies underpinning the activities that take place therein (Leather & Marinho, 2009), namely reflection, collaboration, experimentation, and presentation (Thornburg, 2001).

Wulsin Jr. (2013) observed that, “well-designed space has the ability to elevate discourse, encourage creativity, and promote collaboration.” Recognizing that physical space influences the strategies employed to effectively use the space for teaching and learning (Neill & Etheridge, 2008), computer labs or “augmented learning spaces”, must:

  1. Offers a variety of physical spaces reflecting a range of psychological and social orientations to engagement through strategic furniture selection and arrangement,
  2. reflect constructivist learning theory and 21st Century learning approaches by offering creation and collaboration tools (Kereluik, Mishra, Fahnoe, & Terry, 2013; Voogt, Erstad, Dede, & Mishra, 2013),
  3. support a resilient network infrastructure that accommodates learners’ own devices by introducing broad access with user and traffic management protocols and accommodates future growth by including high-capacity upgrades to take full advantage of current and anticipated affordances of mobile and emerging technologies,
  4. evoke best practice in 21st Century and Connectivist learning by shaping, through design, the way people engage with ideas and each other.


This post is an excerpt of a larger design project reworking spaces to reflect desired pedagogical change. Thanks to Carlos La Costa, Marcella Ryan, and Anneliese Strout for collaborating with me on this project.


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Mindfulness and Meditative Practice in Education

University of Manitoba professor of Education, Thomas Falkenberg is deeply involved in education for sustainable well-being. I recently read his article, "Teaching as Contemplative Professional Practice" in which he explores the benefits of mindfulness and ongoing self-awareness in the teaching profession. Training ourselves to be aware not just of our practice and strategies or our interactions with students, but of our own personal experience as individuals. He suggests that teachers should develop an awareness of their own world view and moral sense, have an understanding of our current patterns of behaviour and engagement, then develop habits of presence and awareness in the moment to align our behaviours with our goals in light of our moral obligations.

The author makes the connection between metacognition and our available "psychic energy" suggesting that we need the latter to perform the former. He also suggests that we can grow our available store of psychic energy through practice. If you're uncomfortable with the notion of "psychic energy" just think of it as energy. We know when we are too tired or too wound up to focus. Finding energy is probably more about conjuring, redirecting, and controlling the energy we have, developing the skills of metacognition and self-regulation, perhaps, increases our store of energy (do we produce more? are we simply using it more efficiently?)

My awesome teaching partner, Cari Satran, wrote her Masters on meditation in the classroom and contributed a chapter to a book Falkenberg edited on sustainable well-being. We guide our students through mindfulness meditations a few times each week and find a marked difference in their demeanor afterward. We use the opportunity to have students become aware of their own physical state, their mental and emotional state and draw their focus into their breathing. Then we do some visualizing, encouraging students to imagine their best work, their best achievements, and anticipate the feelings that accompany such great work. We bring it down to the steps forward that will happen today, in the next period, and have them set goals for themselves. Falkenberg might use the phrase "accessing psychic energy" to describe what we are doing with these meditations. Whatever you want to call it, it is well worth doing.

When I was studying education psychology in Newfoundland, one of my professors shared some relaxation strategies that I also use with students. Focusing on the contrast between tense and relaxed muscles, we learn to recognize the physical manifestations of stress and also how to relax what needs relaxing. Meditation and relaxation serves to connect the mind with the self so the whole child is present for the learning time ahead.

Would love to hear your thoughts on meditation with students, using relaxation techniques to develop control over self, can we afford the time it takes to do this? Or is this an investment in improved function in the future?

Falkenberg, T. (2012). Teaching as contemplative professional practice. Paideusis, 20(2), 25–35.

Satran, C. (2014). Meditation in the classroom: One teacher’s practice of promoting physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being. In F. Deer, T. Falkenberg, B. Mcmillan, & L. Sims (Eds.), Sustainable well-being: Concepts, issues, and educational practices (pp. 173–187). Winnipeg, MB: ESWB Press. Retrieved from

and they call it Democracy: Raising followers or leaders or free thinkers?

Mural: Monseñor Oscar Romero

photo credit: used under cc attribute, share alike licensing by Franco Folini 2003

This post is a quick reflection on the Noam Chomsky piece called, "The Responsibility of Intellectuals, Redux: Using Privilege to Challenge the State", Chomsky as always, sees past what's on the surface straight through the underlying issues presenting a clear argument with compelling evidence. What does this have to do with teaching and learning? Well, the expectation that the education system create fully functioning citizens in our democratic nation. Chomsky exposes some of the more uncomfortable evil actions of the governments we are meant to support. Read through the article and, if you're so inclined, come back and share some of your thoughts. If you want more, consider watching THIS 90 minute video where Chomsky speaks on the article and issues therein.

Serve the people, or serve the state? Chomsky unpacks the distinction between dissidents and "value-oriented intellectuals" both of whom may have the same message of change for the better, though the former is change toward a particular government regime and the latter is away from the regime. The former receives laud and honors from the regime while the latter definitely does not.

Chomsky describes how intellectualism can be used to quash participation in democracy; the citizenry is safe to trust the wisdom of the best minds in the world and just do what they are told. Not only its own citizens, but entire nations whose leaders speak out for their people rather than US policies. The government will lead, the intellectuals will vouch for them, and the public need only follow along.

Eugene Debs, mentioned in the article, was imprisoned for speaking out against military draft, statements which were construed as seditious. He was a labour leader and a write-in candidate for the US Presidency receiving almost one million votes all while he was in prison. He spoke of his leadership saying,

“I do not want you to follow me or anyone else; … I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I led you in, some one else would lead you out. You must use your heads as well as your hands, and get yourself out of your present condition.” (Wikipedia)

So how do we prepare students to be full participants in a democratic society where the notion of democracy differs between the elected and the electors. Where activism is seen as a fringe activity taken up by greenies and bleeding hearts. Where American electoral policies are in place to limit democratic participation. Perhaps this is best done through the “analysis and contextualization of historical traces.”(Seixas, 1999) . Exploring not just the historical facts and figures written by the victors, but source artifacts from both sides; striving to understand the mindset and worldview at the time.

Bruce Cockburn’s song, “Call it Democracy” is like the musical version of this article though Cockburn points the finger of blame directly at the International Monetary Fund (IMF).


Seixas, P. (1999). Beyond “content” and “pedagogy”: In search of a way to talk about history education. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 31(3), 317–337.


Seeking help is a critical skill

“Toxic ideas such as  “asking for help will alter others’ perception of me” or “asking for help will make me feel less competent than my colleagues” prevent them from seeking help from informal (e.g., friends) or formal (e.g., colleagues, project manager, etc) sources.  Since competence and independence are among the most cherished values in today’s organizations (DePaulo & Fisher, 1980), many believe that help seeking may undermine these values (Lee, 1997).”


The mantra in my class, particularly with math, is: attempt the question, check your answer against the key. If it’s right… carry on. If not, try to fix it. If you can’t fix it in a few minutes, get some help. Don’t perseverate on that one question because your brain eventually shifts from trying to solve the problem to self-defeating talk about how stupid you are that you don’t get it. The message is that we are learning, this is the process, we give it a go recognizing that it will be challenging, it will be hard, we aren’t born knowing this stuff.

How to we move from a culture of product to a culture of progress where we celebrate the change in understanding, the evolution of a learning artifact? How do we make it so that asking for help is seen as strength of character, as a commitment to personal growth, as the epitome of a learner?

The more we share our messy drafts and raw work while looking for change over time, the more, I think, we will appreciate the work and artistry that goes into it. Think about those people that have practiced, reflected, improved, and rehearsed so diligently that their performances seem effortless. What if we could watch a Cirque du Soleil performer from the first day in gymnastics to their current state. Would we appreciate their flawless performance even more? Would we understand the processes and skills that go into a performance? What about a painter, or writer, or physicist?


DePaulo, B., & Fisher, J.  (1980).  The cost of asking for help.  Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 7, 23-35.

Lee, F.  (1997).  When the going gets tough, do the tough ask for help? Help seeking and power motivation in organizations.  Organizational Behaviour and Human Decision Processes, 72, 336-363.

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