Weekend thoughts: Digital vs paper-based reading

Digital vs Paper-based reading

People have strong opinions about digital reading vs paper-based reading. It has produced thought-provoking videos like this1

In an article, “Science Has Great News for People Who Read Actual Books“, the author states, “A 2014 study found that readers of a short mystery story on a Kindle were significantly worse at remembering the order of events than those who read the same story in paperback”2. Although it would be interesting to know how the study was done because there are so many variables that could have had an impact on the outcome of the study, I think it comes down to what is the best tool for the job – the important question we need to ask ourselves about the use of any digital technology in education and our personal lives.

Sometimes the “old” is better than the “new”. For example, a friend of mine (who is a science educator) has switched from reading his Kindle in the evening to reading paper-based books instead (based on a study he has read) and his sleep has improved remarkably.

I am not terribly convinced that when we replace paper-and-pen-based technology with digital technology that it is always beneficial. How often do we take into account what science tell us about the best way to engage with a certain activity?

I wonder how many of our technological conveniences come into existence because of mankind’s insatiable desire for new things and other people’s desire to make money out of us …

Is it possible that many of us have engaged with digital reading because it is convenient and the marketing around digital reading has been cleverly focused around convenience, e.g. easy to carry books around, easy to pay, available to us via apps on our smart devices that we carry around everywhere, but we have not considered whether it does its advertised job well? I don’t expect a lot of studies to say anything about this. Companies like Amazon will not be terribly happy if scientific research shows that paper-based reading is superior to digital reading – let’s not kid ourselves: in the end it is all about profits.

I find it fascinating that it is quite likely that most(?) of the people who are designing digital technology today have had a school education with a massive focus on paper-and-pen-based technology. So how do they know that the digital “equivalent” is indeed an equivalent to the education they have had? I am not advocating industrial-model education by the way …

My point is this: if economics is ‘forcing’ the education community to use digital technology and the education community are not critically engaging with science to understand the advantages or disadvantages of said technology, we may unwittingly limit the next generation’s potential to make a meaningful contribution to society.

To conclude, here is more food for thought from Sherry Turkle3.

Ps. There is of course incredible irony in the way I am communicating this message … 🙂

References and notes:
1. Experience the power of a cookbook™ – https://youtu.be/MOXQo7nURs0
2. Science Has Great News for People Who Read Actual Books. Retrieved from http://mic.com/articles/99408/science-has-great-news-for-people-who-read-actual-books#.AWarwgxuV
3. Connected, but not alone? – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rv0g8TsnA6c

Photo credit: ©athrine via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

My communities of practice, version 2016

Community of practiceEtienne and Beverly Wenger-Trayner defines a community of practice as follows.

Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.1

My communities of practice

In light of the definition above and the diversity of my role (see below), it implies that I am part of three communities of practice.

  1. Using technology: This group shares a concern for the pedagofically-sound use of technology in teaching and learning. Members include all staff who interact with students in a teaching and learning capacity at school.
  2. Teaching technology: This group shares a concern for teaching and learning in the “technology” learning area. Presently, members include staff members who teach technology at our school as well as members of the “Computer Science Field Guide Teachers’ Group” that I belong to.
  3. Teaching Christian Living: This group shares a concern for “health and physical education”, specifically focusing on Christian Living (an important component of our special character). Members include all staff members who teach Christian Living at our school.

My interaction with my communities of practice are greatly influenced by the the core values of my profession.

The core values of my profession

In New Zealand, the core values of my profession are best described by the four fundamental principles in the “Code of Ethics for Certified Teachers”3, i.e.

  • Autonomy to treat people with rights that are to be honoured and defended
  • Justice to share power and prevent the abuse of power
  • Responsible care to do good and minimise harm to others
  • Truth to be honest with others and self.

Our school’s special character makes an additional contribution to these core values with, what we call, the ARISE framework4, i.e.

  • Achievement – I will achieve my best
  • Responsibility – I will be responsible
  • Inspiration – I will be an inspired thinker
  • Skills – I will use my skills to serve
  • Elim Special Character – I will be an example of Christ

One of the fundamental principles of the Christian worldview is to “love your neighbour as yourself”5 and love is described in the Scriptures as follows:

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

As a teacher at Elim Christian College I aim to treat staff, students and their whãnau from this point of view since it upholds the principles of the Code of Ethics for Certified Teachers. Over the years it has developed in me the willingness to be open to criticism and to give the members of the school community permission to disagree with me. I have found that in most relationships where I treat the other person with honour and respect, the honour and respect are returned as the relationship develops.

This approach to relationships does require a level of transparency and vulnerability that has left me a little shaken at times, especially in highly confrontational situations. I have learned not to take criticism (whether it is positive or negative) personal but to reflect on whether it is reasonable or not.

Lastly, “love” (as it is defined above) inspires me to create an educational experience for my students that will motivate them to be lifelong learners who will be responsible agents of justice that make positive contributions to humanity’s interaction with each other and the environment.

It may be helpful to briefly discuss my specialist area of practice and how its function and purpose impact my communities of practice.

My specialist area of practice and its function and purpose

Elim Christian College is a state-integrated school with a designated special character. My role has two distinct functions, i.e. working with teachers on expanding their “technological knowledge” as defined by the TPACK model2, and teaching year 5 to 8 and year 11 to 13 students in the “technology” learning area and year 12 students in the “health and physical education” learning area.

I have had a keen interest in the interaction of teaching, learning and digital technology for years. I have spent most of teaching career in international school education. International schools and their stakeholders tend to use digital technology for two reasons, i.e. to keep in touch with family and friends and to increase access to teaching and learning resources (since the education system that the international school follows is often different to the education system of the host country). I have often found myself under-resourced but digital technology tools and resources on the Internet have enabled me to provide my students with a richer teaching and learning experience. As a consequence I have become the person staff members go to when they are looking for ideas on how to utilise digital technology in their teaching and learning.

Later in my career I have been trained as an online teacher and I have taught asynchronous online classes for a couple of years. This has enabled me to help teachers with the implementation of blended learning7 strategies, sometimes helpful in differentiating learning for students. I have run workshops on blended learning at a number of conferences (check the Conferences link in the navigation bar at the top of the page).

In a previous post I mentioned that the challenge with digital technology is that it is constantly changing, it doesn’t always do what you want it to do and you are never sure what exactly it is capable of. It is “neither neutral nor unbiased”2. Over the years I have become involved in leading this conversation as the members of my communities of practice and I try to consider how digital technology may enhance what we do. This has become my specialist area of practice.

It will be interesting to see where this journey leads in 2016. To lifelong learning and beyond!

References and notes:
1. Wenger-Trayner, E., & Wenger-Trayner, B. (2015). Introduction to communities of practice: A brief overview of the concept and its uses. Retrieved from http://wenger-trayner.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/07-Brief-introduction-to-communities-of-practice.pdf
2. Koehler, M. J., & Mishra, P. (2009). What is technological pedagogical content knowledge? Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 9(1), 60-70.
3. Code of Ethics for Certified Teachers. Retrieved from http://educationcouncil.org.nz/content/code-of-ethics-certificated-teachers-0
4. Elim Christian College Junior Campus. Retrieved from http://www.elim.school.nz/about-elim/junior-campus
5. Matthew 22:39, NIVUK. Retrieved from https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+22%3A39&version=NIVUK
6. 1 Corinthians 13:4-6, NIVUK. Retrieved from https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Corinthians+13%3A4-6&version=NIVUK
7. Blended Learning. Retrieved from http://www.christenseninstitute.org/key-concepts/blended-learning-2/

Photo credit: Bob Dass via Foter.com / CC BY

Reflecting on “Reflecting on reflective practice”

Reflection“Reflecting on performance and acting on reflection is a professional imperative.”
McKay in Forthcoming (2008), quoted by Finlay1

I have been asked to reflect on an article from Finlay entitled “Reflecting on reflective practice“. Although the article is really helpful to reflect on reflective practice (… sorry …), it is a rather ironic exercise … if you want to know why, please read the article. In this post I will highlight points that I relate to and briefly comment on my own model of reflection.


In the article the author highlighted the contribution of Schon2 to this field. Schon described two types of reflection, i.e. ‘reflection-on-action’ (after-the-event thinking) and ‘reflection-in-action’ (thinking while doing) and I agree with the phenomenological concerns with ‘reflection-in-action’3. However, as Finlay’s research suggests, I find that I have become “mindfully aware” of my actions as I gained teaching experience over the years. Whenever I am in class, I seem to be constantly evaluating the impact of the words I use to make statements, the choice of words when I ask questions and the effectiveness of the activity I have chosen to facilitate a specific learning goal.
She summarises it well, “Professional practice is complex, unpredictable and messy”1.

Zeichner and Liston’s five levels of reflection, mentioned by the author, are interesting to note. They are “rapid reflection”, “repair”, “review”, “research” and “retheorizing and reformulating”7. I am of the opinion that most teachers, myself included, engage with Zeichner and Liston’s first three points on a daily basis but I think the last two are often neglected. Although I have done informal research over the years to improve teaching and learning in my classroom, a lack of formalising this research has probably led to it having a smaller impact on my practice. Secondly, as I have mentioned in a previous post, spending a lot of time in education’s social media sphere the past few years has had me unwittingly disengage with the meatier aspects of our profession – such as keeping up-to-date with peer-review research on academic theories.

Finlay’s explanation of the difference between reflection, critical reflection and reflexivity shows that reflective practice is a complex, context-dependent process that requires the input of other people. For 14 years I taught ‘alone’ in a traditional classroom but the past two and a half years I am often team teaching in an open learning space. This context gives a whole new meaning to ‘critical reflection’ since your practice is completely transparent and accessible to the other members of your team. I have been forced to be a more reflective practitioner because I cannot ‘hide’ in my classroom anymore. My team members will challenge me, and they have to have the permission to challenge me, to ensure sound teaching and learning take place in our learning space. By the way, based on this experience, I want to argue that reflective practice has to be an integral part of a knowledge society4.

At Elim Christian College (my employer), there has been a major shift the past few years from teacher appraisal being an evaluative process done to the teacher to it being an authentic collaborative process for growing great teachers. This has enabled me to have a positive attitude towards being a reflective practitioner. Seen against the author’s comments on the challenges with reflective practice, my shift in attitude comes as no surprise. I agree with her quote of Hobbs, “Reflection and assessment are simply incompatible”5.

What model of reflection do I use?

I tend to gravitate towards a model of reflection shared by Tony Burkin of Interlead with a group of our staff members. Basically you ask yourself three questions, i.e. “what is happening”, “what’s not happening” and “how can I influence what’s not happening”. When this is done against the backdrop of the reflective questions in the practising teacher criteria6, you have a robust model of reflection at your disposal. I have to think through my own assumptions and engage my students and my team in conversations to determine whether we are on the same page or not. However, I still need to work on being more intentional about scheduling enough time for reflection into my day and keeping a better written record of these reflections. Will this blog enable me to do it? 🙂

I will close with this quote,

“Reflective practice should be applied selectively, taught sensitively and generally used with care.” Finlay (2009)

References and Notes:
1. Finlay, L. (2009) Reflecting on reflective practice. PBPL. Retrieved from http://www.open.ac.uk/opencetl/files/opencetl/file/ecms/web-content/Finlay-%282008%29-Reflecting-on-reflective-practice-PBPL-paper-52.pdf
2. Schon, D.A. (1983) The reflective practitioner. New York: Basic Books.
3. Finlay writes, “In strict phenomenological terms actual pre-reflective, lived experience, by definition, can never be grasped in its immediate manifestation.”
4. Gilbert, J. (2005). Cathing the knowledge wave? The knowledge society and the future of education. Wellington: NZCER Press.
5. Hobbs, V. (2007) Faking it or hating it: can reflective practice be forced? Reflective Practice, 8(3), pp.405-417.
6. Practising Teacher Criteria. Retrieved from http://educationcouncil.org.nz/sites/default/files/Registered-Teacher-Criteria-Handbook-(English).pdf
7. Rapid reflection – immediate, ongoing and automatic action by the teacher; Repair – in which a thoughtful teacher makes decisions to alter their behaviour in response to students’ cues; Review – when a teacher thinks about, discusses or writes about some element of their teaching; Research – when a teacher engages in more systematic and sustained thinking over time, perhaps by collecting data or reading research; Retheorizing and reformulating – the process by which a teacher critically examines
their own practice and theories in the light of academic theories.

Photo creditphil41dean via Foter.com / CC BY

Key competencies to success

Choosing the right key

So you may have noticed that I am enrolled in the “Postgraduate Certificate in Applied Practice: Digital and Collaborative Learning” offered by The Mind Lab by Unitec. In Week 3 we completed a survey to identify which of the key competencies we considered our strengths and which of the key competencies we would like to develop further while we attend the course. I felt that my strengths were thinking, using language, symbols, and texts and relating to others and I wanted to develop participating and contributing.

We are now in week 26 and we have been asked to reflect on which two key competencies have developed the most and to discuss two key changes in our practice.


I have to be honest that the reality of finishing the 2015 school year with a massive literature review assignment hanging over my head and starting the 2016 school year while completing the same literature review assignment, as well as planning an inquiry project based on the literature review, is making it incredibly hard to be objective. I feel like I am being taught the truth of the proverb “Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body”1… but I will try my best (key competency: managing self2).

The one key competency that has been developing continuously is “thinking”2. Allow me to explain. I have been reading substantial amounts of social media since I joined Twitter in September 2008. Although it has been fascinating to follow trends and rants over the years, I have not been disciplined enough about curating social media with an intentional research focus. I have realised recently that so much of social media is noise, i.e. unsubstantiated opinion that doesn’t relate to my context, and I am actually starved for a well-composed symphony, i.e. peer-reviewed research (and I realise this sentence can be self-incriminating). Although you can prove anything with evidence, peer-review research takes you to new depths in your thinking and it helps you to substantiate common sense. For example, peer-review research has put me on to the book “Catching the Knowledge Wave? The Knowledge Society and the future of education” by Jane Gilbert that has helped me develop a better understanding of the place of digital technology in education (a topic for a future blog post perhaps).

There is not a clear winner for the second key competency. During the first 16 weeks of the course I think “relating to others”2 developed tremendously. It was extremely valuable to get together with a diverse group of educators once a week to discuss ideas and collaborate using digital technology. It was great to hear the successes and struggles of both primary and secondary teachers and school leaders from a wide range of contexts and cultural backgrounds. It helped me develop a tremendous respect for New Zealand’s incredible teachers.

Once the course moved online, things changed dramatically. I really missed the rich, face to face interactions we had before and the online modality forced me to develop “managing self”2, i.e. a competency that “is associated with self-motivation, a ‘can-do’ attitude, and with students seeing themselves as capable learners”. The face to face classes had a level of accountability that, for me, came through personal interaction and it positively encouraged me to engage with the course material. I found online learning to be isolating – and as a trained online teacher I should know. The past few weeks have been hard on me and my family and I am uncomfortable with that. For me the quality of family relationships come before work-related activities. Growth is painful but can this pain be justified?


I think I have become more passionate about developing thinking in my students. I am not satisfied with teaching and learning that keep students busy or only focus on helping a student achieve credits. I agree with Gilbert3 that one aspect of education’s purpose is social justice and I am looking for ways to focus my students’ learning around projects that make a positive contribution to people’s lives. I feel fortunate to teach in the technology learning area since it lends itself to a project-based learning approach. This brings me to the other change that I am detecting in my practice.

I have designed two collaborative projects in this course. Both of them are intentional about “participating in and contributing to” our community. This is an area of my practice that I have neglected over the years and I am excited to see how our school can build even stronger bonds with our community through the digital tools we have at our disposal. Our principal, Murray Burton, recently challenged us as staff to change our focus from what we think we are entitled to, our natural inclination as human beings, to asking how we can serve others.

So my question for 2016 and beyond is, “How can I help Elim Christian College serve our community better?”

1. Ecclesiastes 12:12
2. Key competencies of the New Zealand Curriculum
3. Gilbert, J. (2005). Cathing the knowledge wave? The knowledge society and the future of education. Wellington: NZCER Press.

Photo credittamahaji via Foter.com / CC BY-NC

Technology Activator version 2016

I am a pilgrim. My journey has taken me to many exotic places. Five of them have been “Home”. I have assurance of my final destination but the rest of the journey is a wonderful mystery.

Presently, my family and I are living in Middle Earth in the wonderful village of Auckland. I have the blessed privilege of teaching at Elim Christian College – oh yes, I have been called to teach! My title is: the Technology Activator.

What do technology activators do” you may ask. Before I can answer this question, please allow me to digress. In my experience, teachers are in constant beta (please forgive my geek speak). I have been upgraded more times than I can remember and this year is no exception. So my title is: Technology Activator version 2016 …

Technology activators aim to get everyone, themselves included, excited about the interesting, pedagogically-sound possibilities that digital technology bring to today’s classrooms. Koehler and Mishra1 mention that the challenge with digital technology is that it is constantly changing, it doesn’t always do what you want it to do and you are never sure what exactly it is capable of. They add that it is “neither neutral nor unbiased”. Someone has to lead that conversation …

I teach year 5 to 8 students coding, year 7 and 8 students technology and year 12 students Christian living. In addition, a colleague and I are trying to raise an awareness and correct false perceptions of a misunderstood study area at our school: computer science. I hope to start a radio station for our school and I have been asked to manage the update of our school website. I do not see boredom in my future …

When you visit my classroom, it will most likely be noisy but students are busy “doing things with knowledge”2 – most of the time anyway. I try to cultivate a culture of respect, i.e. respect for myself, my classmates and my teachers – learning seems to thrive in these circumstances. Scardamalia, Bereiter, McLean, Swallow and Woodruff3 have identified a few principles to keep in mind when you use computer technology in teaching and I realise that over the years I have aimed to include these in my classroom. They are “making knowledge-construction activities overt, maintaining attention to learning goals as opposed to other goals of an activity, providing process-relevant feedback, and giving students responsibility for contributing to each other’s learning”.

Now that you know who I am, please let me know who you are, dear reader.

1. Koehler, M. J., & Mishra, P. (2009). What is technological pedagogical content knowledge? Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 9(1), 60-70.
2. Gilbert, J. (2005). Cathing the knowledge wave? The knowledge society and the future of education. Wellington: NZCER Press.
3. Scardamalia, M., Bereiter, C., McLean, R. S., Swallow, J., & Woodruff, E. (1989). Computer-supported intentional learning environments. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 5(1), 51-68.