It’s a Change for Time

I know exactly what you’re thinking … shouldn’t the title read “It’s Time for a Change.” Well, no because I now understand that the very concept of time itself has undergone a radical transformation. Nor, is this post some presumptuous attempt to critique Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time; which, of course, I didn’t even understand (or finish for that matter!) My musings here are in fact inspired by the Forum article by Deidre Macken which appeared in The Weekend Australian on Saturday, September 21. I’ve now read it several times for its originality of thought and its deep resonance with one of my most prominent education concerns. Naturally, I encourage you to read the full text of the article by one of Australia’s better known columnists. However, you would need to be a digital subscriber to The Weekend Australian.

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Being of a similar “vintage” (i.e. born in the 50s) I certainly well recall the era when “… time was under the control of someone else (usually the adults pointing to their wristwatch).” But, I hadn’t really considered previously how the control of time has now passed to “… anyone with (a) smartphone …” especially, but not exclusively, young people. Macken coins the term in-my-time for this phenomenon. Most interestingly, for me at least, she goes on to list the time related concepts that are disappearing:

“Think of the idea of publication date, of opening hours, of deadlines, of bookings, adult-time viewing or even that old stand-by, it’s a date.”

Certainly, in-my-time has made for profound changes in a whole range of business models; of which the boom in online shopping is the best example. As the article draws to a conclusion, Macken makes a further telling statement:

“We are multi-tasking our moments, rewriting schedules, going soft on commitments and making the future as fluid as possible.”

She concludes with the reminder that time is “… up for grabs, and chances are you aren’t in charge of it.”

Now, finally, I can try to explain why this article has had such a profound effect upon me. It would seem to me that teachers expend far too much energy in schools attempting to control time.

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We parcel the day into neat little segments of equal length … “OK, that’s the end of History for today, now let’s send you off to Maths.” But the young people we teach have recognised and accepted their digitally enhanced world as a fluid place. How can we encourage the use of technology whilst simultaneously imposing time limits upon learning? It’s undoubtedly true that many students have gone “soft on commitments” (especially where assessment due dates are concerned!) and that we need to turn them into empowered digital citizens. Perhaps one way for us to manage their time would be to actually relinquish our hold upon it; to allow them to learn passionately rather than according to our strict subject organised format. I would welcome your thoughts. As for those assessment due dates … how would you respond if a student said, “I’ll get it to you in-my-time.”

Student Directed Innovation and Cool Creation Tools

This year, at my own request (!), I am teaching Year 8 for the first time in perhaps two decades. I have the same group of 29 students for both English and History. This gives me seven lessons per week, ranging in length from 45 to 65 minutes. Of course, I realised early on that having the same group allowed for all sorts of possibilities; not least of all the opportunity to operate a “timetable within a timetable.”

My first decision was to give the students themselves some measure of control over what and how they learn. Of course, I remain a slave to the curriculum and the need to compile (largely useless?) reports. Still, I realised I could easily cede one lesson per week to the students in order that they might pursue their “passion.” I have read a great deal recently about how the Internet is now passion-based rather than content focused. Given that I am working with class group 8.1, I decided to call the project Innova8.1 (I know it’s hardly original!) The idea was first introduced to the students via my favourite iPad app, Haiku Deck. I’ve embedded the presentation below … please feel free to adapt and use it for your own purposes.

Created with Haiku Deck, the free presentation app for iPad

The early signs are great … not surprisingly the students look forward to this weekly “release” from the usual constraints of the classroom. Their interests are as varied as you might expect; animation, digital music, photography, anime, mash-ups just to name a few. My only expectations are that the students must both create and share content.

In reality, I have had to make the greatest adjustments; to allow students  to move freely around the room, to sit on the floor, to listen to music, to seek the advice of their peers … to engage in noisy, laugh-filled student directed learning. Once or twice I’ve come close to snapping and demanding silence until I remember I’ve given them permission! Each Innova8.1 lesson begins with some sharing of either student created content or with me introducing a new Web 2.0 tool or an iPad app. (Oops; probably should have mentioned that we are 1:1 Apple Macbook whilst I make regular use of my iPad. Hell, I even started lending it to students despite the separation anxiety.) Now, finally I have also included here via Scribd a list that I’ve called “15 Cool Tools and Apps for Student Creation.” I have begun to introduce and demonstrate these to my class. They, much like me, seem to like nothing better than trying and mastering a new tool.

As always, I would welcome your comments, suggestions or questions; I’m already convinced that “Student Directed Learning” must become a part of what we ALL do.

15 Cool Creation Tools by Simon McKenzie