The Threshold Challenge for Teachers in 2016


My favourite definition of education is this:

“Education is a conversation between one generation and the next, about what is important” ~ Sir John Jones.

The quote does, however, invite the question – “What is important?”

At a secondary school recently, I asked that very question of staff, who discussed it in small groups, and together we make a list of what they thought was important. Here’s what was listed (in no particular order):

  • Learning how to learn
  • Creativity
  • Resourcefulness
  • Resilience / Willingness to risk failing
  • Teamwork
  • Communication and presentation skills
  • Problem solving skills
  • Independence
  • Critical thinking skills
  • Tolerance and understanding of others
  • A growth mindset
  • Research skills
  • Digital citizenship
  • Self-awareness / Self-assessment.

What interested me is that nobody mentioned “memorising important historic dates” or “knowing the first 20 elements of the periodic table”.  Nobody even mentioned “learning times tables”. That’s not to say that those things are no longer useful, but that nobody mentioned them, shows me that teachers know, tacitly, that some things, while still useful, are now less valuable, and other things which have always been valuable are now even more so.

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The threshold challenge for teachers in 2016, is how to spend more time teaching the things which, in our heart of hearts, we know have increasing value, while still preparing our students for assessment systems that primarily measure the things that have falling value.  Do you see what I mean? If we spend all our class time teaching creativity, communication skills and resourcefulness – we are doing them a disservice if they face an exam testing their knowledge recall in a room where communication is banned and resourcefulness is called ‘cheating’.

The threshold challenge for teachers in 2016, is how to spend more time teaching the things which have increasing value, while still preparing our students for assessment systems that primarily measure the things that have falling value.

We have to do both, not either/or. That is one reason (of many) that the flipped learning model makes so much sense. It allows us to make sure we are covering the knowledge they will need for the exam, while freeing up significant class time for “…what is important”.  Flipped learning is not an end in itself. It is a means to an end – which end is the freedom to teach the things that matter most, in engaging ways, whether or not they are assessed on an exam.  (Until the yoke of exams is lifted off our shoulders).


If you are interested in flipping your class, or if you have already done so, but are looking for easier, cooler and more effective tools, workflows and strategies, I’ll be running a workshop in Melbourne on 19th February.  You can find the information about that workshop here.

Or if you would like me to present to your staff on this, or any other topic related to the use of ICT in education, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Student in a Flipped Class? Cut homework time in half using this tip!

Most of us read much faster than talking speed yet still comprehend what we read. In the same way, it’s possible to listen much faster than your teacher can speak. But many of us have never thought about that, because in real life, we only hear words as they are uttered. (In the classroom, the speed your teacher can move her mouth is holding you back!)

But If your teacher makes screencasts, videos, or audio podcasts, try playing them at double speed. You’ll be amazed to find that you can comprehend what you are listening to just fine. In fact, after listening for a while, you’ll discover that it starts to sound surprisingly normal. After listening at double speed, if I slow a podcast down to “normal” speed, it sounds comically slow!

So how do you do it?

With an audio podcast it’s easy. Almost all podcast players have the option to adjust playback speed. My favourite is Overcast. To my ears it does the best job of speeding up voice while preserving clarity. Plus it has some really innovative features like “Smart Speed” which reduces the length of the pauses between words; shortening the total listening time, without speeding up the words themselves. Brilliant!

Swift Player

For videos or screencasts on your iPhone or iPad, try Swift Player. It lets you speed up any video on your device, or online (YouTube, Vimeo, etc).

One curious reason students more readily listen to podcasts than complete traditional homework

I’ve always found that students are much more likely to watch a screencast or listen to a podcast at home, than to complete a traditional reading-writing homework task.

There are a number of reasons for this, but one that I’d never considered until recently is that psychologically it’s always easier to commit to a task if you know how long it will take. I’m much more likely to attend a working bee, join a committee or even go shopping with my wife, if I know in advance what my involvement will cost in time.

Think now, about a student contemplating her homework. If it’s a reading and writing task, she doesn’t really know how long that will take to complete. It could take 20 minutes but it might take 45. Her time commitment is indeterminate. So if she has half an hour ’til bed time, does she make a start on the homework? I offer that many students will put it off until tomorrow.

On the other hand, consider a student with a podcast to listen to. He knows precisely how long it will take, because it says so, right there in the progress bar! He knows he can listen to that podcast in 25 minutes and 45 seconds – leaving precisely 4 minutes and 15 seconds to brush his teeth and put on his pyjamas, before bed. Homework done. Check!

Student: “My teachers won’t let me take a photo of the Whiteboard…” (Are you serious?)

Screen Shot 2015-07-28 at 8.49.07 pmOn the heels of my previous post about why some teachers fail to realise the efficiency gains of technology, Today I had a conversation with a teenager that went like this:

Student: “My teachers won’t let me take a photo of the whiteboard with my iPad.”
Me: “Are you telling me, they make you copy off the whiteboard with pen and paper?”
Student: “Yes”
Me: “How many of your teachers do this?”
Student: “All of them!”
Me: “Are you serious?”
Student: “They tell us that copying the board will help us remember and understand the information better”
Me: “And do you think it does?”
Student: “No, I’m usually not even thinking about what I’m writing; I’m just copying down the words”

I don’t buy for a moment that students will remember or understand information significantly better by copying! Telling that to students is as disingenuous as it is absurd! When I read the morning newspaper I don’t need to copy out the news stories in order to comprehend them! When researching a topic of interest I read relevant articles, maybe make a few notes and save them to Evernote for future reference but I don’t transcribe the articles in full onto loose leaf! What makes anyone think that copying paragraphs of text from the board will make students remember or understand? As you began reading this blog post, did the thought even cross your mind to start copying it out with pen and paper to aid your understanding? Of course it didn’t! That would be a prodigious waste of your time and would make little to no difference to your comprehension.

Let’s be honest. The real reasons teachers make students copy information from the board are:
(a) It pads out the lesson with busywork, so a very small amount of learning will use up an entire period (It reduces the teacher’s preparation time : class time ratio).
(b) It is the easiest way to “wing it” when a teacher hasn’t prepared a genuine and engaging learning activity.
(c) It keeps students seated, quiet and under control.

In 1989 copying information from the board was a practical way for students to collect a body of examinable subject knowledge to learn (i.e. memorise / encode), because schools didn’t have photocopiers, students didn’t have cameras, and nobody had Google.

In 2015, valid reasons for using a whiteboard might include sketching a diagram to answer an extemporaneous student question, teaching basic literacy skills (character formation, perhaps spelling) or to capture a group brainstorming session. A whiteboard is useful for that kind of thing. (And don’t be ridiculous – if your students have smartphones, let them take a photo, if it helps them!). But I can’t think of any good reason for entering class, with the intention of writing screeds of informational text on the board for students to copy like it were still 1989.

It’s a squandering of class time – a great example of wheeling technology, instead of riding it (to borrow the metaphor from my previous post).

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Teacher: “I don’t have time to use technology in my teaching”

A teacher said to me “I don’t have time to use technology in my teaching”.

What a strange thing to say! – I can’t think of any other professional occupation in which people feel that computer technology slows them down, gets in the way and makes their work less efficient? In other professions it reduces friction, increases productivity and saves time (and money).  That is why those industries least forgiving of inefficiency, are most invested in computer technology.

I don’t think the teacher I spoke to is alone, either (I think her feelings are quite common among teachers, actually). And what’s more, I don’t doubt that she is right! Technology probably does make her work less efficient. But that is because she’s doing it wrong.

Screen Shot 2015-07-26 at 5.37.57 pmSteve Jobs said that a computer is like “a bicycle for our minds” meaning that it magnifies the efficiency of our thinking the way a bicycle improves the efficiency of our locomotion. I love that analogy – and I think it’s very true, but it does, of course, assume that you actually ride the bike (rather than wheeling it alongside while walking). In order to ride a bike, you have got to stop walking. You can’t do both. If you’re not prepared to give up walking, then the bicycle is a hindrance.

When teachers describe technology as a hindrance to their work, I say that’s because they are unprepared to let go of their old methodologies. Instead of “riding” technology, they’re “wheeling” it alongside their old teaching practices.

Why your school needs clearly defined social media policies

pinnacleIt’s not to stop teachers from doing the wrong thing with social media; It’s to give them confidence to use social media well, knowing there is no appearance of impropriety.

If there were no balustrade on the ‘Pinnacle’ lookout in the Grampians, very few people would venture to the edge to take in the arresting view.  The barrier gives hikers confidence to go further than they would otherwise dare, because their safety is assured.  The railing doesn’t restrict people; it liberates them to go further!

The railing doesn’t restrict people; it liberates them to go further!

Is it appropriate for a teacher to reply to a student’s electronic message at 9:00 pm? 11:00 pm? I don’t think there is a universal answer to that question, but I do think there should be a school policy about it.  If a student sends a text at 9:45 pm, and the school policy says 10 pm, a teacher can confidently reply, leaning against the balustrade of that policy.

I meet a lot of teachers who are reluctant to use “this website” or “that web 2.0 service” with their students for fear that doing so might make them the star of a story on 7’s Today Tonight (and not in a good way).  That fear can be soothed by creating well publicised, unambiguous and clearly defined policies.

Narcissus and the Selfie Stick

Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 12.56.41 pmIn Greek mythology, Narcissus was a hunter, so good-looking that he didn’t consider any of his female suitors fair enough to be worthy of him.   One day he glimpsed his own reflection in a pool of water and fell in love!  Unable to resist the charm of his own visage, he surrendered to his fate, sank into the pool and drowned.

If Narcissus were alive today, I reckon he’d carry a selfie-stick in his quiver.  I’m just saying.

What can teachers bring to the classroom, that has increasing value?

For the past 12 months I’ve been asking this question to teachers and school leaders in various forums:

What do teachers bring to the classroom that is still scarce now that we have Google, YouTube and Wikipedia?

As expected, I’ve received numerous answers to that question, and with a nod to ‘Family Feud‘, the top ten answers are on the board:

top ten responses

You’ll notice that “Providing Knowledge” is not on the list.  Twenty years ago, knowledge was one of the most valuable things a teacher contributed to the learning experience of students.  Now it doesn’t even make the top ten.

I think an equally valid question to ask is this: What can teachers bring to the classroom that not only still has value, but which has increasing value?

What can teachers bring to the classroom that has increasing value?

I’d be interested in your answers to that question. I have a few of my own, (which i’ll develop further in future posts.)

  • Critical thinking.
  • Mindfulness.
  • Wisdom.
  • Honest and constructive feedback.

Here’s the point: You can cut the ‘Class-time Pie’ anyway you want.  But if the largest slice is being given to standing at the front of the room disseminating a commodity of falling value, then less time can be devoted to really building a precious classroom experience for students.

classtime pie








Finally! Record the Screen of Your iPad in Any App, with Narration.

Yesterday X-Mirage added the ability to record not only your iPad screen and audio via Airplay, but also your voice narration.  I’ve been waiting for someone to implement this for ages.

First, Before we get to the details, here’s a little video I made to demonstrate how good the result is.

I’m a fan of iPad screencasting apps like Educreations, Collaaj and Explain Everything, but the limitation on all these apps is that they can only record within the app itself, due to Apple’s sandboxing policy. In other words you can’t use Explain Everything to make a video tutorial about how to change settings in the Settings app, or how to create an eBook in Book Creator or how to write a formula in Numbers or Excel.  Nor can you use them in combination with a content-based app to make a screencast explaining a topic.

X-Mirage is not the first computer application to allow video mirroring from an iOS device. It’s not even the first to provide a video recording function. In fact, both AirServer and Reflector have made this possible for some time now. But X-Mirage does something these others don’t. [Edit: actually AirServer has recently added this functionality too]. It allows you, via your computer’s microphone, to simultaneously record your voice. Now you can simply work on your iPad and describe what you are doing, and X-Mirage captures it all!. When you are finished, the video and two audio tracks are mixed down into an MP4 video and saved to your computer. [It seems that this is only possible on a Mac at this stage. The PC version of both X-Mirage and AirServer will record iPad video and audio, but not your voice – sorry PC users].


X-Mirage is remarkably simple to use. With your iPad and computer connected to the same WiFi network, Launch X-Mirage on your computer, then swipe up from the bottom bezel of your iPad to bring up the Control Centre. Tap the AirPlay button at the bottom of the Control Centre, and choose the X-Mirage option and toggle mirroring to ‘on’. You will then see your iPad screen mirrored to your computer.

To start recording, click the (quite obvious) red ‘Record’ button at the right edge of the window. To record your microphone as well, you also need to click the smaller microphone button immediately to it’s left. That’s in fact the only part of this process that is anything less than child’s play – you have to click both those buttons when you start recording. First you need to start the video recording, and then once that is going, click the microphone button to start recording your voice.


Because X-Mirage uses your Mac’s microphone (not the microphone in your iPad) you do need to be aware of your computer’s proximity (Ie. you can’t be walking around with your iPad while recording). The upside of this, however is that if you have a good external microphone attached to your Mac, your screencast’s audio will benefit from better sound quality than if X-Mirage recorded from the iPad’s microphone directly.

X-Mirage is $16 with discounted educational pricing available from the website.

Even at the full price, It’s well worth the money (in my opinion).


PS. I do know that it’s possible to use Reflector (or AirServer) to mirror an iPad screen to a computer, then simultaneously use some other screencasting software on the computer to record what Reflector was displaying – I’ve done that myself a number of times.  It’s a lot of mucking around, though, and for all that effort you have to really want to make a screencast for it to be worth the effort!


What To Do With The Extra Class Time? – Teach Like a Pirate!

If you flip your classroom – what will you do with the extra class time you free up?

If a teacher’s answer to that is that kids will do the work that would previously have been assigned to them as ‘homework’, then I feel a bit sad (for their students). There are so many more valuable things we could be doing with that precious ‘together time’ – things that can’t be done any time or anywhere else.Teach Like a Pirate on Kindle app

Book recommendation: Teach Like a Pirate, by Dave Burgess. It’s not an EdTech book. It really has nothing to do with technology – but in a way, that’s why I’m recommending it. The promise of the flipped classroom model is that class time will be freed up for … whatever you want to use that time for! In my view, that time is best spent doing things that students can’t do anywhere else. Those things are scarce, and if scarce, then valuable. Many of Burgess’ classroom ideas and strategies are time-consuming, (which will be the major blocker in a traditional classroom). But that’s my point really: If you are considering flipping your class and wondering what you might do with all that extra class time, I think Teach Like a Pirate will expand your thinking, or at least give you some inspiration for time-consuming but valuable learning experiences you could be giving your students.

I especially love the thought-provoking questions Burgess has included in the book. Here are three that I found particularly thought-provoking:

  1. If your students didn’t have to be there, would you be teaching in an empty room?
  2. Do students wait to go to the bathroom until their next period, because they are afraid they will miss something unforgettable in your room?
  3. Do you have any lessons you could sell tickets for?

In a world with Google, Wikipedia and YouTube – a world where information has lost it’s scarcity, teachers need to be ever-asking ourselves what do I bring to the classroom that is scarce?, because if I am really doing something valuable in my classroom, my answer  to Dave’s three questions above will be “No”, “Yes” and “Yes”.