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Learners First with Educational Technology


A quick search on the web for educational technology will turn up a long list of articles with titles like “10 best apps for the classroom”. While this information is useful, it does encourage inexperienced teachers to place the technology at the centre of their planning. Let me explain with a simple example.

In a staff meeting about 12 months ago a teacher at my school presented to the staff. Teachers were impressed by this technology and they could see that it was fun and engaging. As a result classrooms all over the school started doing Kahoot quizes. Kahoot is a nice application and I am in no way critical of it. The point I want to make is that a well written Kahoot is a good educational exercise, while a badly written Kahoot is not. might be fun (until the students get sick of it), but it is not inherently beneficial to educational outcomes. In the words we are hearing more and more lately, it is pedagogically neutral. (

In this example I sensed that the teachers liked, and based on that made the decision to incorporate it into their lessons. In effect the technology was driving planning … and that worries me.

I work for the Tasmanian Government and the motto for our education system is “Learners First”. If technology is at the centre of our planning how is that putting learners first? Surely learners need to be at the centre of our planning. In a world, however, where most of the information we get about educational technology is presented by the developers and promoters of the technology, how do we ensure that the learners and pedagogy remain the driver?

I have written in the past about the learning design studio approach ( There are features in this approach which I believe ensure that learners and learning drive our planning. Two key elements in the learning design studio appraoch are establishing good learning intentions and writing student personas.

Learning Intentions


At an early stage in the learning design process it is important to establish what students will be learning. Good learning intentions have the following properties:

  • They need to be clear.
  • They need to be context free.
  • They need to be true to the parent document.(curriculum  and standards.)

As an example consider the learning intention “To be able to construct arguments for and against assisted suicide” 1

This appears at first sight to be a good learning intention, but it is too closely associated with an activity. The real learning intention, divorced from context, is “to be able to construct arguments for or against emotionally charged propositions.” For effective learning this intention should be applied in a range of contexts, such as abortion, assisted suicide, … After the learning intention is established the most suitable context(s) will be developed as the learning activity is designed.

This short video explores how learning intentions are developed, connected to the parent document and how they lead on to the next stages in the learning design process.

Student Personas

The key to putting the student at the centre is empathy. When we design our learning activity, we are designing it for the benefit of learners. In order to design effectively we need to have an appreciation of how those learners think and feel. In many design exercises the development of empathy involves research, but in our case we have familiarity with our students. All we need to do is spend some time documenting what we know.

A good way to document what we know about our students is to develop a persona. A persona is a description of a typical student in our class. (We may write more than one to accommodate differentiation).

Teachers know their students and tend to exercise empathy as an automatic process, but I think it is important to do this at a conscious level. Take the time to write about your students, record their likes dislikes and frustrations, their hopes and plans for the future, their weaknesses and strengths and their situation outside school.

Students at the Centre

Once we have clearly documented learning intentions and student personas we are in the position to begin to plan the learning activities. It is highly likely that those activities will involve some technology, but the use of technology will come out of an understanding of the the learning intentions and the students.

Technology will no longer be the driver. We will be putting learners first.


  1. D. Wiliam, S Leahy, “Embedding Formative Assessment: Practical Techniques for K-12 Classrooms”, Learning Sciences International, 2015 pg 35.

The medium is the pedagogy?

Two of my colleagues ( @ms_edstuff and @joshdeanLC ) are currently on a tour studying educational technology and formative assessment in the USA.

I have been reading their blog with interest. The most recent entry is an analysis of the relationship between technology and pedagogy. There is a lot in that post, and I encourage you to read it for yourself, but a key point is that technology is educationally neutral.

…there ought to be and will be no difference between pedagogy in online learning, blended and face-to-face learning.

In simple terms it is not the tools we use, it is the way we teach that matters.

I agree with this 100%. It is obvious that sitting students in front of computers to work doesn’t automatically improve the learning. I am not sure, however, that technology is totally neutral.

To start with I want you to consider this image as a metaphor for educational technology.

horse car


Horses are an effective, if rather out of date, form of transport. Cars are also  an effective form of transport. Combining these, however, doesn’t necessarily give us the best of both worlds.

In a simular way face-to-face teaching has advantages and limitations. Online learning has another set of limitations and advantages. If we take our face-to-face learning program (assignments, activities etc.) and simply move them online, we may end up with something good, but we are also likely to end up with all the limitations of both contexts and none of the advantages. In other words a car being pulled by a horse.

To avoid the “horse and car” situation we need to design our educational activities with the technology in mind. If we do that effectively we can ensure that in applying technology to our educational program we will maximise the advantages. The technology based learning will be an improvement.

Looking at this from another direction. In the 1960’s Marshall McLuhan famously said

The medium is the message.

By this he meant that the medium provides a context which influences how the message is received.

In education examples of media are face-to-face, online, blended, etc., and the medium used to deliver the learning shapes the way the learning is received. So we need to consider the medium when we plan educational programs to ensure they are well received (effective). Technology (the medium) is not totally neutral.

Design for Technology

Putting this philosophy into practice involves redesigning educational programs with the technology based medium as a consideration. There are several design frameworks which could be used, but I would suggest the Learning Design Studio as the basis for a process which could be used to design for technology.


EdTech is not a pedagogy and we need to stop talking about ‘blended learning pedagogy’, ‘online learning pedagogy’ etc. as if they were specific ways of teaching.

On the other hand technology provides new media for delivering educational programs that colour the way students receive the learning . We need to design learning ecologies which take full advantage of the new media.

We are still working that out.


Why complete year 12?

There has been much discussion lately in Tasmania about student retention and attainment in the final years of secondary school.The state government have established programs such as the 11/12 extension of High Schools and a review of 9-12 education to plan for and encourage student retention and attainment. Other groups such as the Education Ambassadors and events such as The Hothouse , represent a community focus on Secondary School completion.

This policy and community activity is in response to a slowly increasing level of TCE (graduation certificate) completion, which reached a disappointing 50.8% in 2015.

In spite of this there is anecdotal evidence that a large proportion of the regional Tasmanian community still view TCE completion as a worthy secondary objective, behind gaining employment.

In response I would like to put forward some reasons why it is important for students to complete year 12 and gain their TCE, even at the expense of a couple of years in the workforce. These comments are based on a brochure produced by the Department of Education.

Increasingly, career opportunities in the future will be based on non-routine problem solving. The best preparation for this is to complete a quality general education including literacy, numeracy, ICT and  21st Century skills such as collaboration, problem solving, knowledge construction etc. Completing secondary education improves these skills.

In the past (last century) most people would enter the workforce and continue working in the same area using the same basic skills throughout their working life. This is no longer the case and most employees will change jobs and industries a number of times. Even within the same job, technology brings changes. Each change requires new learning and new skills. A solid general education provides a basis for adapting and efficiently developing new skills as they are needed.

Most employers agree that they would rather employ a person who has completed year 12. They find that year 12 graduates are more skilled and more mature that those that have left school at the end of grade 10.

Completing grade 12 opens up more employment opportunities and choices. It also opens up more highly paid and interesting jobs.

With employment comes money and financial independence, so it is not difficult to understand why young people find a job offer tempting at the end of grade 10. On the other hand, however, staying at school will provide better opportunities and a better lifestyle into the future.


Submission to 9-12 Curriculum Review


In my home state of Tasmania there is a curriculum review of grades 9-12 taking place. Currently most students complete grades 7-10 in a Secondary School and then change to a Secondary College for the next 2 years. Currently in that system slightly over 40% of students achieve the leaving certificate at the end of year 12. The state government are currently extending the Secondary Schools so they will offer grades 7-12. This review is to look at curriculum and attainment in that context. This is my submission to the review.

Analysis of data at 4 key points in the system indicates that there are about 10% of students that fall short of the educational standard all through their education. Approximately 60% succeed at each stage and around 30% fall below the standard at some point but succeed at other stages. This diagram illustrates the data. (Lamb S, 2015, p. iv)

The index of educational opportunity in Australia


(Diagram reproduced from Lamb et. al. page iv)

As senior secondary educators in Tasmania our best chance of improving attainment is to capture the ~17% that fall below the minimum standard between grade 7 and grade 12 and boost them back to a satisfactory level of attainment, as well as improve the outcomes of the ~10% that have consistently failed to meet the minimum standard. The question of course is how to go about that.

What is restricting attainment?

Before looking at solutions we need to find out what factors mitigate against attainment. Lamb, suggest a number of factors (in summary):

  • Completion is linked to achievement in school. Only one in two of the lowest mathematics achievers (lowest decile) at age 15 completed Year 12 by age 19. For the highest achievers, 94.3 per cent had completed Year 12 by age 19.
  • Levels of student engagement in school – cognitive, emotional and behavioural – as well as student dispositions towards school and learning (sense of belonging, sense of purpose, self-efficacy, determination or grit) vary by student background and are correlated with achievement.
  • Linked to the likelihood of doing well at the end of the senior school years are social and cultural factors, as well as differences in the concentrations of disadvantage across schools and communities.
  • Year 12 attainment among 19-year-olds varies substantially by socio-economic background. The SES gap is a much as 28 percentage points between highest and lowest. About 40 per cent of young people from the lowest SES backgrounds do not complete Year 12 or its equivalent by age 19.
  • Location is strongly linked to Year 12 attainment. Remote and very remote communities have high numbers of young people not completing – 56.6 per cent and 43.6 per cent respectively.
  • Of these SES is by far the strongest factor, followed by location. These are things, however, which we cannot do anything about. Things which we can exercise some control over are engagement and achievement.


Students that achieve well tend to complete their education. The building blocks of achievement are literacy and numeracy, students with poor literacy and numeracy skills do not achieve well at school in general and as a result they tend to disengage and not complete their education. For this reason one way to improve completion and attainment, particularly for the ‘at risk 30%’, is to build literacy and numeracy.

A good tool to evaluate the literacy and numeracy skills of our students is the PISA testing for 15 year olds in 2009. On this scale Tasmania provides the following results (Lamb S, 2015, p. 49):

Mathematics Reading
Mean score Mean score
OECD 487 OECD 496
Australia 504 Australia 512
Tasmania 478 Tasmania 485

Clearly Tasmania is behind in these areas when compared to the Australian average and the OECD in general. These mean scores hide even worse results for low SES students. Poor literacy and numeracy undermines learning and achievement, and contributes to poor attainment and retention figures.

One focus for improvement is therefore to boost literacy and numeracy, particularly for those students who are at risk. At the moment most students only complete one year of Maths and English in grades 11/12. In fact those students who are weakest in these areas are more likely to complete the least Maths and English subjects. I propose that students complete 2 year courses in literacy and numeracy, in line with the national curriculum. This will give students the best opportunity to build their skills in these areas.

As a teacher of Maths I will use that subject area as an example. If students enrolled in Maths courses over 2 years they would end up with an improved and less rushed coverage of the Maths curriculum and the standard and morale in classes would be much better. With minimal curriculum modification I can see possible Maths pathways for students as follows:


This can be achieved now by having students enrol in a 2 year pathway for Maths rather than individual subjects. A simular collection of pathways could be developed for English.


“Engagement is of primary importance to succeeding at school. Many students who do not feel they belong at school, or reject school values, and become alienated or disaffected, struggle to succeed and place themselves at risk.”

(Lamb et. al. page 53)

Engagement refers to the extent to which students identify with the school and value the outcomes. There are three aspects to engagement (Lamb S, 2015, p. 53):

  1. Emotional engagement refers to acceptance of school values and responses to peers and teachers.
  2. Behavioural engagement refers to participation in school activities.
  3. Cognitive engagement refers to connections with the learning tasks.

Measurements of these 3 dimensions of engagement indicate that Tasmania is slightly behind the Australian average, but more importantly this measure is also strongly influenced by SES and therefore has most impact on the students who are often already struggling with poor achievement and family support.

As an exercise it is interesting to think first about what sort of things mitigate against engagement:

  1. Emotional engagement
    • Ensure students are constantly changing groups so that they find it difficult to get to know their colleagues. Make sure that all their class groups are different and they have little time to develop relationships.
    • Ensure that students have as many teachers as possible so they find it difficult to get to know their teachers well and feel comfortable with them.
  2. Behavioural engagement
    • Make sure that students have as little time and opportunity as possible to engage in extra-curricular activities.
    • Ensure that any extra-curricular activities have as little connection as possible with the school.
  3. Cognitive engagement
    • Make the curriculum as complex as possible.
    • Ensure that the assessment is complex and difficult to understand.
    • Make the enrolment process confusing and subject choice is complicated by a bewildering array of options.
    • Teach what the curriculum stipulates. The objective is getting a pass, not learning something useful or valuable. Also don’t connect anything learned with the real world.

Based on this much of what we do in senior secondary education actually works against engagement. Again much is outside our control, but there are some things which I think we can work towards.

  • Reduce the number of subjects. This will make the enrolment process less confusing and reduce the number of different subjects that students are doing, giving them more in common with their peers. There is evidence that reducing subject choice improves engagement. (Darling-Hammond, et al., 2006/2007)
    • A good first exercise is to establish subjects on the basis of learning outcomes and level of difficulty, rather than content. If two subjects in the same learning area have simular learning outcomes then is there a need for both of them?
  • Encourage project based learning.
  • Provide credit for the learning that takes place in clubs and societies, or community work.

These are just a few thoughts, and they are somewhat controversial and in some cases counterintuitive. But I think that a new direction is needed to improve attainment and retention.

Grant MacDonald B.Sc. (Hons.), M.Ed.Studs


The opinions expressed in this submission are personal and not representative of my employer or any group I am associated with.

This is a public submission – it does NOT contain ‘in confidence’ material in the main submission or its attachments, and can be placed on ACER’s website.


Lamb S, Jackson J, Walstab A, Huo S, 2015. Educational opportunity in Australia 2015: Who suceeds and who misses out, Centre for International Research on Education Systems, Victoria University, for the Mitchell Institute, Melbourne: Mitchell Institute

Linda Darling-Hammond; Peter Ross; Michael Milliken. (2007), High School Size, Organization, and Content: What Matters for Student Success?, Brookings Papers on Education Policy, No. 9, 2006/2007, pp. 163-203)

To VLE or not to VLE?

There has been a growth in the number of Virtual Learning Environment packages in recent years. Fueled perhaps by the marketing hype, teachers are under pressure to move their learning online. many teachers are working hard to learn and implement a VLE to deliver their course online.

In a subversive moment I decided to ask why?

I have used a VLE to great effect, so I am a believer in the technology, but like many good things there is the risk that it is overused. With that in mind I decided to take a step back and ask when and how a VLE should be used.

Broadly speaking I see three levels of technology integration into teaching practice, roughly connected to the SAMR model.

  1. Classroom teaching is unchanged but online resources are provided to support students. So the teacher might provide some extra resources like Khan Academy links for the students. This corresponds to Substitution and Augmentation, or the enhancement level in the SAMR model. I would include a flipped classroom in this section as it is really just an augmentation of traditional teaching.
  2. Students are provided with a classroom blended learning environment where they use online resources and activities integrated into the classroom learning. In this situation the underlying pedagogy is quite traditional but the students also work online to complete activities and assessments. This corresponds to the Modification stage in the SAMR model, where the technology has significantly modified teaching and learning, but the learning design is fundamentally the same.
  3. The final approach is where technology is factored into the learning design stage. This is quite difficult to do but I have attempted this approach in a previous post. This would correspond to the final Redefinition stage in the SAMR model, where the students are engaged in learning that would not be possible without the technology. By this I don’t mean a single online activity like a Kahoot quiz, but a  course that integrates technology at the learning design stage and probably would not be possible without Edtech.

Now looking at these three scenarios it is obvious that most classroom use of technology falls into the first scenario. Most teachers are using technology to support isolated activities, or to provide students with remedial support. That is not a bad thing, and I make no criticism of what they are doing. My suggestion, however, is that teachers don’t require a VLE for that level of technology integration. A VLE is a complex package and learning to work comfortably in the VLE environment can be a significant hurdle to teachers wishing to use technology in their classroom. By setting that consideration aside many teachers will feel more comfortable and confident to try using technology.

So if there is no VLE what can teachers use?

  1. The simplest solution is to use Dropbox or Google Drive. Free cloud services like those are extremely simple to use and resources can be organized in folders for students to access.
  2. The next level up is to use a blog site such as WordPress. This can start as simple blog posts with work for students and with time it can grow to become a relatively sophisticated virtual classroom environment. Teachers can add features as their confidence grows. I have been using this method for some years now and an example can be found at
  3. To my way of thinking the Rolls Royce of simple solutions is Mosaic LiveTiles. This is provided free to schools with  a SharePoint/Office365 environment and while the infrastructure requires some expertise to establish, the package is extremely simple drag and drop technology for classroom teachers wanting to provide resources to support their students with an attractive interface.

So in summary teachers wishing to support their class with online content don’t need to implement a VLE. It is much quicker and easier to use other sharing technologies.

An example of Participatory Pedagogy in an online environment

Recently I have grappled with the problem of developing an online course within my VLE that uses modern thinking on pedagogy for 21st Century skills. The course I am developing is called the Design Workshop and this is the pedagogical design which underpins it.

Most online courses are attempts to provide the equivalent of classroom learning experience in an online environment. The design Workshop takes the opposite approach and seeks to use the unique features of an online environment to bring a new style of learning to the classroom.

In proceeding through the 5-6 week course students are taken through the design process towards a goal of their own. At each stage they share their progress with other participants within the online forum. After the introduction there are 5 modules representing 5 stages in the design process.

The purpose of this discussion, however, is to focus on the pedagogy. This approach could be applied to any online course.

The Design Workshop explores a pedagogy and assessment that are not practical in a traditional classroom. The pedagogy is based on a concept called ‘participatory pedagogy’, while the assessment is based on the principles of ‘assessment for learning’ and digital badges.

Participatory Pedagogy

The pedagogical theory that the Design Workshop is based on is called Participatory Pedagogy (PP).

PP uses a collaborative and reflective process to formalize knowledge. It aims to develop transformative learning (changes in how we know) rather than informative knowledge (changes in what we know).
Successful PP contains three main elements:
1. providing choice and flexibility in learning activities and assignment work.
2. navigating the balance between challenge and risk.
3. creating contexts for critical reflection.

Students will have had little experience in learning like this. Most of their experience will be with informative learning. Given information, learn information, reproduce information.

Students familiar with the PP approach have reported that the teacher using a participatory pedagogy approach needs a range of features (quote from reference):

  • Be open to the interaction thereby enabling the students to have a voice.
  • Be willing to commit to the style and be an active participant yourself.
  • Have courage and be willing to go outside of your teaching safety zone into new unexplored domains.
  • Be frank, up front with the format, and provide encouragement to the students so they feel supported during this new learning format.
  • Plan learning based on student interests and choice, and do so by collaborating with and guiding learners as opposed to informing them.
  • Create an atmosphere of learning where expectation of learner action is high and modify the activities/plans to meet their needs.
  • Be open, willing, and supportive to students if you are trying creative adventures because it can be a risky thing for adult learners to engage in.
  • Be very comfortable with awkward pauses and strange looks, and be willing to walk students through their discomfort.
  • Be humble but have a good depth of experience, both human and professional.

To be successful, therefore, a participatory pedagogy needs to be well supported by a mentor style teacher who demonstrates these qualities.

Choice and Flexibility

In the Design Workshop students will choose the design task they wish to embrace. This provides for choice and flexibility. As a result:

  • They will have ownership of the task
  • The task is in a context they are interested in
  • Within the design process they are able to work at their own pace
  • Can go into as much depth as they wish.
  • Assessment/success is based on reflection and collaboration rather than comparison with external standard

Other courses using PP will need to find their own way to provide for choice and flexibility, but allowing (or forcing) students to set their own goals or topics will be one way of doing that.

Challenge and Risk

In the Design Workshop students will set their design brief/task before they embark on the solution. This has inherent challenge and risk.

  • Can the task be completed?
  • Do they have the skills of ability to effect a solution?
  • Resilience needed to overcome problems and stalled development.

Students share their work for comment by others and comment on the work of others.

  • This is a risk for students.
  • Also a challenge.
  • What do they say, how do they evaluate the work of others?
  • This evaluation process is closer to that which they will face in the real world. Students need to feel comfortable with putting their work and opinions out there for others to see and comment on.
  • Risk involved in not knowing what basis others will evaluate the work.

The higher the challenge the higher the risk. Structure provided by the design process gives a paradigm for managing the development of the solution to the design task. It provides an intellectual safety net to allow for a higher degree of risk than normally attempted.

Use of mentor or sponsor also provides for support with managing challenge and risk.

Once again other courses will need to incorporate risk, but using a forum is a method which could apply in almost any situation.

Critical Reflection

Students share their work for comment by others and comment on the work of others. This is a powerful driver for critical reflection.

  • What do they say, how do they evaluate the work of others?
  • Is their work ready for criticism?
  • How do they respond to the criticism?
  • This evaluation process is closer to that which they will face in the real world.

This process is closer to a ‘real world’ process and the structure encourages the students to reflect on their own work and provides the tools for them to do that. They begin to see their work through the eyes of others.

The use of a forum is therefore central to this pedagogy.


Assessment for Learning

Assessment can be formative or summative (or even both). Formative assessment can best be defined as an assessment which moves learning forward, while summative assessment measures learning.

The assessment used in the Design Workshop is intended to be strongly formative and is developed from principles collectively referred to as “Assessment for Learning”.

When considering formative assessment we need to think about where the learner is going, where they are now and how they will get there. This needs to be considered along with the joint responsibilities of the teacher, peers and the learner.

Leahy et al. [2] uses this framework to identify 5 key strategies of formative assessment.


The teacher in traditional classrooms spends a significant amount of time on content delivery, lesson planning and assessment. When a course is delivered through a VLE these roles are filled by the VLE. As a result a teacher has more time to spend in a mentoring role.

The teacher/mentor does not need to be expert in design or the skills the student requires, but they do need to fulfill some of the roles of the teacher in the formative assessment structure described above. The mentor is responsible for providing encouragement, support and advice. Clarifying the goals of the course and monitoring progress through the course. The mentor needs to be prepared to intervene as necessary to keep the learning moving forward.

The roles of peer and learner are also key in the Design Workshop. In a traditional classroom it is not easy to effectively activate peers and learners as owners and resources of learning. On the other hand educators agree that these are important steps towards students being independent learners and therefore life-long-learners. The Design Workshop makes use of the online forums throughout the course to activate students in this respect and it is important for the mentor to monitor this activity and intervene as needed to ensure that the forums are working effectively.

So what is the assessment for the Design Workshop? In a typical course there are defined outcomes which students are assessed against. But Wiliam and Leahy [3] point out that often a specific learning outcomes cannot be identified, rather a horizon of outcomes exist and

“…sometimes it is appropriate to do things not because they are guaranteed to result is specific learning outcomes but because they are important experiences for students”

The Design Workshop fits into this category of learning experience. Every student will be working on something different and taking a slightly different path through the course. The value of the course is the experience of designing and collaborating, so success is measured in terms of the degree to which they have engaged in that process.

For this reason, while some teachers may decide to assess the final design, it is intended that assessment focus on completion of the 5 modules and effective engagement in the forum discussion.

Digital badges

The primary assessment for this course is through earning digital badges. Many students are familiar with these in the context of computer gaming. A badge or trophy is awarded to the player in recognition of an achievement. The badge is designed to provoke engagement and reward success, but it is not necessarily an indication of completion. There is more discussion of how badges work at

Badges differ from marks in that a mark is seen by students as final. If a student gets an unsatisfactory mark then they are likely to just move on. If a student does not qualify for a badge, however, they are more likely to go back and make another attempt. The badges also have clearly defined criteria for earning them, so students know exactly what they need to do to succeed.

Digital Badges are more formative than a traditional assessment and more in line with the principles of ‘assessment for learning’.


Through this discussion I have used a specific course as an example, but the principles can be applied to any online learning environment.

Technology provides for new and better ways of doing things, but in education many (most?) teaching is essentially the same process when moved online. This discussion is an attempt to describe a new pedagogy which is specific to the online environment.


[2] Leahy, S., Lyon, C., Thompson, M., & Wiliam, D., (2005). Classroom assessment: Minute-by-minute and day-by-day. Educational Leadership, 63(3), 18-24

[3] Wiliam, D., Leahy, S., (2015). Embedding Formative Assessment: Practical techniques for K-12 classrooms, pg. 29, Learning Sciences International, USA

Digital Badges / Open Badges Taxonomy

Medien-Didaktik 2.0

Working on the taxonomy of digital badges / open badges is an interesting empirical and conceptual endeavour. I have been looking into different types of badges as part of the “Discussion Paper on Open Badges and Quality Assurance” on which I have been recently working in context of the European Project “Badge Europe” (Erasmus+, Strategic Partnership). Before the first draft of the discussion paper will be open to public for comments and edits, I would like to share the first draft of the taxonomy of digital and open badges. I have proposed a classification based on three categories – (1) content-related: what the badge represents, (2) issuer-related: who issues the badge, and (3) process-related: how the badge was achieved.

This is just a first attempt and I would be very glad to get your feedback on this. Thank you to the authors who inspired my work in this area – Carla Casilli

View original post 204 more words

Cybersafety for teenagers

As teachers we are all aware of the online dangers that our students (and children) face. It is easy for us to channel; that fear into excessively controlling or prohibitive behaviour. It is more valuable to support teenagers with some knowledge and advice so that they can step out into the exciting and educational online world with a little bit of awareness. To use an analogy, every teenager will want to drive a car, we can’t stop them but we can do our best to make them as skillful and careful as possible. We will in some cases fail, but our only practical option is to try.

Some might argue that the issues for young people online are the same as they have always been. Bullying, scams and predatory behaviour have always been a part of our society. The difference is that information technology has amplified these problems, while also moving the crimes into a physical environment where the victim feels safe. People generally have strategies for dealing with criminal and antisocial behaviour out in the world, but they are now facing them in their private lives and homes. While the problems are not new, these two factors put them into a new context.

Teenagers are often trusting and overconfident at the same time.

  • They are trying to establish their maturity and independence and are unwilling to admit that they are struggling.
  • The risk taking behaviour teenagers are famous for is also expressed online.
  • Teenagers crave acceptance and this can lead them to be excessively trusting of others.
  • They are also early adopters of technology.

All these factors make cyber safety a particular issue for teenagers.

There are a number of resources available to help teachers approach these issues with students. I will list a few here, with a focus on Australian content.

The Australian Media and Communications Authority (ACMA) provide a web site on cyber safety at This site provides resources suitable for children, teenagers, teachers and parents. ACMA also have a cybersafety Facebook page, so by liking the Facebook page, or registering on the cybersmart web site, people can receive regular updates and alerts. ACMA also visit schools and present free sessions on cyber safety to students and/or parents.
ACMA also run a Youtube channel at

ACMA have a blog at which has articles designed to facilitate discussion of the issues.

This video, entitled ‘TAGGED’, deals with issues of cyber bullying, sexting and online reputation in the context of a secondary school. It is an excellent introduction to the topic.

The reality is that social media is a part of teenage life, and it can be a very positive experience. Teenagers need to know how to use technology safely and effectively. With this in mind there is an “Easy guide to socializing online” at

Cyber bullying

Cyber bullying involves posting defamatory or threatening material online. SMS messaging is also often used. Bullying has always been an unsavory aspect of teenage life, but with social networking and text messaging the bullying can be both more public and anonymous, increasing the damage and viciousness. Bullying typically makes the victim feel powerless and can lead to self esteem and mental health issues. Cyber bullying can be worse than face-to-face bullying because (1):

  • the bully feels protected by anonymity
  • it happens all day any day and the vistim feels they can’t escape by simply avoiding situations
  • victims can be targetted in a usually safe place, such as at home
  • the audience is large and the posted information can be permanent and widespread.

The cybersafety web site offers the following advice to the victim of the bullying (quote from ref. 1)

  • don’t retaliate or respond, no matter how tempting
  • block the person doing the bullying and change your privacy settings
  • report it – click the report abuse button
  • collect the evidence – keep mobile phone messages and print emails or social networking conversations
  • talk to someone you trust, like a family member or friend.

If a friend is being bulllied:

  • don’t forward messages or pictures
  • though you may not have started it, you will become part of the cyberbullying cycle if you forward messages
  • stand up and speak out – tell a trusted adult
  • support your friend and report the bullying.

If students are in need of help or advice in relation to online bullying they can contact kids help line.

Online reputation

As students use online resources they create a virtual picture of themselves for others to see (3).

Information online has a long life and really should be considered permanent. Facebook and blog posts are obvious contributors to the online reputation, but web sites visited and other online activities are also monitored and tracked by interested parties.

In the case of teenagers, things which might be considered a bit of fun may turn out to be an embarrassment in later life. It is important for students to be thinking about this.

These short videos illustrates the issues:

This video looks at the general issue of digital reputation and using common sense about the things we post online.

We can thoughtlessly damage the online reputation of our friends. What seems like a joke at the time might be seen in an entirely different light by those that are not in on the joke. This video can be used to illustrate this point.

To keep digital reputations under control it is important to:

  • think before posting on social media and blogs (note that even if Facebook posts are only shared with friends, if friends ‘like’ a post it becomes visible to their friends as well)
  • keep profile information private
  • monitor tags in pictures and remove anything which might be embarrassing
  • treat others as you would want to be treated
  • don’t post photos with others in them unless you are sure they would be OK with it

Online sexual predators

Online activity can be a lot of fun, but there are those that will take advantage of this contact with young people (4). As a result students can find themselves involved in contact which makes them uncomfortable, or the victim of grooming.

Often the predator will present a false identity designed to appeal to the victim, at least in the early stages of grooming. The process often involves gradually introduces the victim to increasingly sexually explicit material. The predator may also applying emotional manipulation with flattery, romance and understanding, to build trust with the victim while simultaneously undermining the victim’s trust with family and true friends. This online activity is illegal in Australia.

In the majority of cases the online predator is known to the victim, but not always.

When a meeting is arranged the victim generally knows that the aim is for sexual activity, and this makes them feel some responsibility. It is important to emphasize that the victim has been groomed and manipulated and is not at fault, even if they met willingly.

To manage the risks schools should (quote from reference 4 ):

  • Identifying vulnerable students, including those who take greater offline risks or behave inappropriately offline. These students should be referred to students support services, and be provided with connections to trusted and supportive staff at the schools.
  • Referring a student who has participated in a sexual relationship or is distressed by online contact to student support services. They should also be provided with options for psychological support including school counselling and anonymous counselling through the Kids Helpline 1800 551 800, or the Cybersmart Online Helpline.
  • Reporting to the Australian Federal Police if a student reports making contact with an individual online who appears to be grooming them. The AFP investigates suspected cases of online grooming.
  • Booking a Cybersmart Detectives activity for upper primary and lower secondary students to enable them to experience a simulated online grooming scenario supported by lesson plans.
  • Booking an Outreach Professional Development workshop for teachers and Internet Safety Awareness presentation for students and parents. These are free to all schools.
  • Refer parents to the Guide to Online Safety which is a brief video resource with strategies to help parents explain the importance of avoiding unwanted contact to their children.

Useful online resources:

This item from A Current Affair could be used as a discussion starter. is an interactive site that offers young people advice in positive relationships. offers online training modules and lesson ideas on youth mental health

Identity theft and scams

While cyber bullying is probably the issue of most concern to students, online scams are also an issue and teenagers are often trusting and prone to identity theft.

Indentity theft

Identity theft involves using information about a person to adopt their identity with the aim of financial gain. Commonly it involves using a stolen identity to take out loans etc. A person who’s identity has been misused will find themselves receiving demands from institutions for the repayment of money, or even from police in regard to crimes committed in their name.

The information used to steal an identity might be gained from information posted innocently online, from responses innocently made to spam emails, or from malware/spyware (malicious software) infecting a computer.

To avoid identity theft:

  • Use strong passwords including uppercase and symbols
  • Don’t use the same password for all your logins
  • Use secure (encrypted) websites when transacting online
  • Don’t post personal information online
  • Don’t respond to emails asking for personal details such as bank account numbers etc.

It is important to keep an eye on bank balances and credit card transactions and contact the bank immediately anything unusual occurs.


Scams involve tricking a user into handing over money. ACMA lists the following typical scams (2):

  • Lottery – The scammer claims the recipient has won a substantial prize and asks them to pay a small fee to claim the prize. Unexpected fees then continue to arise.
  • Phishing – Emails are sent from falsified or spoofed email addresses. Phishing emails claim to be from well-known financial institutions or telecommunications providers and direct recipients to a website that mimics the company’s real website. Phishing emails may also request confirmation of usernames and passwords. They are designed to allow the scammer access to the victim’s financial details such as credit card numbers, account names and passwords or other personal information.
  • Advance Fee (or ‘Nigerian 419’) – These scams offer to pay a considerable sum of money to assist in transferring millions of dollars out of a foreign country for various legitimate sounding reasons. Similar to lottery scams, unexpected fees arise that must be paid before the money can be transferred.
  • Mule – Prospective victims are sent attractive job vacancy adverts claiming to provide high pay for limited work. The job often involves transferring sums of money between accounts. This is money laundering and the recipient themselves may ultimately face criminal charges.

Adults have learned to be cautious of scams online, but school students are often new to this world and need to be reminded to be cautious. Early scams were very crude and the emails contained poor grammar and spelling, but scams are becoming increasingly sophisticated and use professional looking web sites etc.

Advice on how to safely use social networking sites

Most people are familiar with Facebook and how to use it more safely. It is good advice to set everything so only friends can view posts. Users need to remember, though, that if a friend can see a post, then under certain conditions their friends can also see it. In addition, the privacy settings in Facebook are very complicated, so regardless of how users think their settings are, it is safest to assume that anything on Facebook is public.

Twitter is of course intended to be public, and people only tweet what they want everyone to see. The advice is to ‘count to ten’ before tweeting.

There is specific advice on using other sites such as Kik, Instagram and Snapchat at


  1. (13/6/20013)
  2. (13/6/2013)
  3. (13/6/2013)
  4. (13/6/2013)

21st Century Classroom – Best Practice Scenario

Welcome to 2015. We are coming to the end of the long summer  break here in Australia, which is why I have been quiet.

This year Don College are implementing a BYOT policy across the school. In that context I was asked by my principal to outline current best practice in educational technology. As part of that I wrote a scenario, or dream. Something for us to aspire to as students walk into that first class and open up their laptops on their desk. The software examples I will use reflect my preferences, but you can substitute your own.

A few minutes before the lesson Audrey is collecting her thoughts. She has set a 5 minute video to watch and some questions for homework (using Edpuzzle) covering the content for this lesson. Earlier in the day she spent 10 minutes looking at the students responses and most seem to have a satisfactory understanding, but 6 look as if they need more help.

Audrey arrives at the classroom and begins to get her laptop connected to the IWB. (There is quiet music playing to set the tone. Audrey likes Bach, and she finds students tend to settle more quickly and not run around as they come in when it is playing.) Students are trickling in and Audrey chats to them about their weekend and asks them to log into Fronter (the VLE) while they wait.

As the lesson starts Audrey has the learning objective for this lesson and the activities on the IWB. The activities are ready in Fronter and most of the class have covered the theory so they are able to settle straight down to work. (They use Office365 for their work.) Audrey then spends time with the 6 students needing help.

20 minutes into the lesson all students are working on the assignments and Audrey takes a few minutes to do the attendance (on her laptop). She finds that 2 students are absent and checking, she sees one of them (Jack) is currently online. She opens up a Lync (video) call to jack and it turns out that he only has a cold and is able to do some work at home. Audrey explains what the class are doing and Jack logs into Fronter at home and starts the class assignments. Jack opens up a call with his friends at his usual work table and they chat and discuss the problems in the same way they would if they were physically together in class.

Audrey also has a distance education student in the class (Mandy), and Audrey takes a few minutes to check on her via a Lync call. Mandy needs some guidance but is then able to work on by herself.

Now Audrey is free to move around the room as usual assisting students. She has found that with the work online she spends much more time working with students individually and in small groups.

With 10 minutes to go Audrey brings the class together and refers them to the learning objective. She has a short questionaire prepared in Fronter for the students to answer. Based on that she will know which students might need extra help. Those students will receive some extra work in their inbox later in the day. She also talks about the next lesson and what they need to do to prepare for that. When the students have completed the exit questions and uploaded the work from today’s lesson to the class cloud share, they are given permission to leave the room.

So that is how I envisage a 21st Century classroom. Yes it is a dream and there will be students arriving late disrupting the start to the lesson, there will be disruptive students, there will be students off task etc. But I think the dream still gives me a direction to work towards.

Class Blogs

I have been using a blog in my design class for a number of years now. I thought it might be a good idea to post about how blogs can be used and how I have mine set up. A sort of ‘Blogging 101’ for teachers.

What is a blog?

A blog (short for weblog) is an internet based technology that allows participants to post diary entries to the web site for others to read. Blog sites generally offer a free basic service which is adequate for general users. The income stream of the service providers is generated from subscribers who require advanced features such as domain registration and specialized page themes. Some providers also use advertising to generate income.
From the early blogs, which provided little more than a ‘roll’ of diary entries in order of date, modern blogs provide for embedded media and content pages accessed through menus, to provide something approaching a wiki. There is also the ability for readers to comment on entries. Integration with social media is also provided so that bloggers can link their posts to Facebook and Twitter feeds etc.
Blog sites offer a range of themes to allow bloggers to personalize their sites and make them attractive. Managing the sites is easy for a user with basic computing skills. It is possible to manage the access to a blog, but the process can be fiddly and usually it is assumed that a blog is a public document.

What are class blogs used for?

There are a number of uses for class blogs and it is important to decide on the purpose of the blog before setting it up. Possible uses include:

  • Information source for class members
  • Flexible delivery of learning materials
  • Opportunity for students to engage in communicating their ideas

Information source for class members

In this scenario the blog is used to support the classroom activities of the students. The focus is on developing a class identity and increasing engagement with the curriculum by providing further activities and interesting peripheral information. For instance links could be provided to multimedia clips on the internet and other information around the curriculum to assist students to put the core curriculum material into a broader context. There is not always time to provide that broader context in our busy curriculum, but it does help students to add meaning to the core curriculum and engage more effectively with their learning.

Flexible delivery of learning materials

Not all students find the classroom environment, with its distractions, an effective learning environment. All students benefit from thinking about the lesson content between lessons. Thirdly, at times the teacher may elect to adopt a flexible delivery mode within the class and provide a work program for students to work through at their own pace during the class time. All these needs can be provided for if the lesson content is added to a blog. In this case the structure of the blog might be different and provide for a menu so that students can browse directly to the activity or lesson material.

True flexible delivery requires that work be submitted, progress through the program is monitored and student-teacher communication be formally managed. A blog does not provide tools to adequately perform all these functions and a virtual learning environment (VLE) is required.

Student blogging

In English writing classes there is an obvious use for blogs as a tool to develop writing skills in a modern context. Blogging has become a genre in its own right and students benefit from experiencing it. In other classes, however, there is also a place for a blog.
Many teachers come from an age when privacy was a virtue and most people equated privacy with safety and freedom to some extent. Students today often lack that reserve and think nothing of throwing information about themselves ‘out there’. While young people might view the privacy of the pre-internet age as secrecy and repression, which allowed many social ills top flourish (abuse, sexism, racism), the openness of our students also supports bullying, identity theft, and other misuse of the information disclosed.
I took that brief digression to make the point that it is important when establishing a class blog to educate students in how to protect their own safety. It is important not to imbue them with paranoia, but on the other hand they need to be aware of the safe boundaries. I prepared a wiki page on cyber-safety for the staff at my college which you are free to use at

Blogging as a creative writing exercise

In this situation students will be writing about the topic of the blog, attempting to appeal to a wider audience. If this is oyur aim then students and parents should be consulted before a public blog is established. Students will not in general be posting personal information, but what they do post might still create a negative impression of them which may have consequences in the future. If there is any concern then a safer option would be to use a blog on the school intranet.

How do I get started?

The first step is to decide what the topic of the blog is and stay true to that. If there are several different purposes then consider multiple blogs. (Blog software generally allows users to establish a number of blogs under the same account.)

There are a number of free blog sites available. WordPress seems to be one of the best and most popular, and at my school ( Don College, Australia) we have standardized on that. I also like to encourage staff to use a standard theme and appearance, which gives our subject blogs a relatively consistent look and feel. In this way students readily identify the blogs as part of the college teaching program. It looks more professional as well.

An example

The blog for the Don College Computer Graphics and design class is at This blog has two aspects. The first thing you see is a traditional blog which reports once a week on the progress and direction for the classes. (Note though that lately I have not added a post, this is because we are into exams and then the long summer break will start.) Once a week is a good spacing between posts, as it maintains engagement and interest and doesn’t become tedious for the teacher writing or the student reading. It also provides an item of interest like an embedded animation which serves to attract students to the blog and inspire them a bit. The second part on the front page is a set of links to other resources. Thirdly there is curriculum content and copies of assignments etc. under the menus at the top. So that overall the blog acts as a sort of class home page where students go for information and resources they need.


In conclusion there are a number of effective ways in which blogs can be used, and with a little planning and support they are an effective way of presenting material to students and supporting their learning. They do not have the power of a fully functioned VLE but they are quite easy to set up and very easy to post information to. They are also free to use. The blog can become a sort of home space online for the class.