Friday, 1 September 2017

Meet Sophia, a humanoid AI robot, developed by Hanson Robotics

Yesterday I had the opportunity to meet Sophia, a humanoid AI robot, developed by Hanson Robotics. Here are some of the photos and videos I took, apologies for the quality of the videos from the back of the room:

Q&A session with Dr. Ben Goertzel and students from Kerikeri High School and from Lynfield College prior to the keynote

During keynote

After the keynote the audience was invited to come up close and personal and to interact with Sophia

There are lots of implications, positive and negative, out of development of AI and AGI. I will write a separate post once I have got my thoughts a bit better organised.

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

The end of digital collaboration - or is it? ACEL e-Teaching 25

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Earlier this year I was approached to write an article for ACEL's e-Publications. I have focused it on the shift from a highly collaborative working environment to an environment where access to collaborative digital tools is more limited. The question I asked myself was, how do you deal with loosing the access to tools like collaborative Google docs, do you have to go 'old school' and move back into a little box?

I don't think so, and if you are interested in reading my suggestions about keeping up your digital collaboration and even inspiring others to follow suit, you can find the article here.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Old meets Modern

A good six months into my new role as Education Manager at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds is a good point for me to take some stock. We have come far, but every time I reach the peak of a mountain, I can see the next mountain range I want to climb:) Looking back over the last six months, there has been lots of learning
  1. of the necessary historic content (and there is always more to learn)
  2. how to run experiences outside the classroom for different ages, topics, learning needs etc.
  3. how to operate within one of the major historic & cultural attractions of the north
and much, much more. It has also left me with many questions:
  • What is the role of Museum Education within the wider NZ education system, and what do visiting teachers know about our role?
  • Do Museum Educators connect and learn with and from each other across sites?
  • How do you personalise learning for students when you are not the 'main' teacher for a class?
  • How do we best incorporate UDL into our programmes?
  • Pre- and post-visit learning: What exactly is our role, and how do we best fulfill this role?
  • How do we know we have made a difference to students' learning?
Looking back, it's interesting how easy you can fall back into a 'safe' zone of teacher directed learning on set topics, and I think that's probably what I have been doing when I first started here. We have since developed our programmes to offer more personalised programmes for individual classes, and while there are certain things many visits have in common, we have had lots of fun running visits around  "Polynesian migration", "European migration", "Matariki", "Northern wars", "significant events after the signing of Te Tiriti" and even "setting up an imaginary museum". I rewrote our Teacher Handbook to give teachers some ideas and important information before they arrange their visits.

The way I see it, the Museum Educator needs to not just understand points 1-3 from the top, they need to understand future focused teaching and learning: Personalising learning; New views of equity and diversity; Rethinking learners' and teachers' roles; A culture of continuous learning for teachers and educational leaders; A curriculum that uses knowledge to develop learning capacity; and New kinds of partnerships and relationships. What does this look like in our context?

Personalising Learning
In my own classroom, personalising learning would apply to each individual student, using my knowledge of every student; that's where we run into a bit of trouble as we don't usually know much if anything about our visiting students. However, we try to personalise the visit in a different way; to get away from providing just one programme for a particular year level, we try to work closely with the visiting teachers to tailor the programme to their needs.

Equity and diversity
As mentioned above, our knowledge of students is very limited and usually comes via the visiting teacher. However, when they arrive, we now make a real effort to get to know something about the students, and we try to hook into this where we can (e.g. an exchange student from NSW gave us the opportunity to talk more about connections with Australia during the early contact period, or we encourage avid waka ama sports people to take the lead when we visit Ngātoki). We are still working on suitable strategies to support students with special education needs better.

Rethinking learners' and teachers' roles
Ako… in a reciprocal learning relationship teachers are not expected to know everything. In particular, ako suggests that each member of the classroom or learning setting brings knowledge with them from which all are able to learn. (The concept of Ako)
I'm quite confident that we attempt to do this in every visit and generally do it quite well; however, not all students will be confident to share their knowledge with relative strangers during the visit. Establishing relationships during visits is one of our major goals, and with these relationships comes a greater chance that students will feel safe enough to share their knwledge with us.

Continuous learning for educators
This is one of the key elements for us in our work; while you could be forgiven for thinking that history is set in stone as it has happened, our understanding of historic events, their causes and consequences morphs and changes over time. It is not just a matter of reading lots of books, it's the korero with visitors, with local kuia and kaumatua, the visiting of other historic sites and museums and the making of connections between what we already know. As the saying goes, "history is written by the victors" (often misattributed to Winston Churchill but apparently its origins are unknown), but we are trying very hard to give a more balanced view of New Zealand history. 
My learning has concentrated a lot on content lately, but I want to stay up-to-date with pedagogy, with new approaches to learning and teaching, with future-focused pedagogy, with effective use of technology to transform learning. Our small team of currently two, soon three teachers, sits a bit isolated, not just geographically, and I am keen to link in more again with the wider education community.

Use of knowledge to develop learner capacity
It would be easy to see a visit to a museum or a historic places just as an opportunity to gather facts and information. We have said to our visitors all along that if they just leave us with information they could have gathered via Google, we have failed. Depending on age and maturity of our students, we try to encourage them to think deeper, think about the why and how, about the implications events have had in the past, have in the present and will have in the future. To this extent we have developed the progression of Collect, Connect and Reflect: Collect facts and information, Connect with prior knowledge and with yourself, Reflect on causes and consequences on New Zealand and on yourself.
Ultimately I want students to inquire into a question that is dear to them, but I am still trying to work out where exactly Museum Education fits into the wider education landscape. Are we running 'the show' or are we supporting the teachers with their learning (and how do we do that)? If we are 'running the show', how do we set up the inquiry, work through the stages and have the students share their learning if all we see them for is the three hour visit? Kath Murdoch, whose work I admire, has written an interesting post about "How inquiry teachers... teach" which is a good starting point for me to think about this more.

New partnerships and relationships
To a certain degree, we are one of these partners in learning, we support and hopefully extend the learning that happens in the classroom. We have learnt heaps from other people in the field, and we are trying to integrate this into our work with schools.
When schools visit us, I am sometimes not sure what role the visiting teachers expect us to play. I want us to be more than just the transmitters of information, but it is the class teacher after all who brings them here, who facilitates the learning at school, sets up units of work, inquiry projects etc. We are making a point of only appointing teachers into our team because I want us to connect the Old with the Modern, to help students inquire into our history using a future focused lens. I want our programmes to closely link with the learning in classrooms and with the NZC. Our Museum Educators need to be future focused teachers, and they need to be able to build relationships as well as manage behaviour when necessary. 

Where to next?
The lovely Tara Fagan at Te Papa and I have been bouncing ideas off each other about how to bring future focused learning to Museum Education - hence the post title Old meets Modern. I have to admit I have found time constraints are a major distraction to work on any issue or project consistently and to the depth I would like to. Thankfully with another teacher starting with us early September I will spend less time out on the grounds with classes and will be able to focus more time on answering my questions above. Each of these questions are as important as the next, and there are another few little ideas I have on the back of my mind - actually in a OneNote notebook so I won't forget (old brain...). A lot of these depend on improving our connectivity.

In regards to the actual visits, I am trying to give students more choice (e.g. they select the speech of one Māori chief and find supporting or contradicting evidence while we move around the grounds, and at the end of the visit they can state if they agree or disagree with the chief, backed up by the information they have collected), but overall I don't think we are fare well enough yet on UDL approaches. Once our connectivity has improved, I see lots of room for children's choice on how to present back their learning; wouldn't it be cool if a student chose chose to make a ChatterPix video of a carved figure answering a particular question, or maybe a stop-motion animation filmed down at Hobson's Beach showing a waka drill?

I would also like to connect more with the local educators, we have an advisory group which we could look at expanding further, but I would also like to be part of teacher PLD in the area (Educamps etc.). A step further would be actually running such PLD here on site - with beautiful views and a yummy cafe on site, the learning can only benefit...

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Museums - that's for old people

It feels like yesterday that I started at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds - here we are, 4 months later, having met close to 3500 children, their teachers and whānau... It's been an incredible journey of learning for both my colleague and I who started in this together.

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Not only did we need to learn the obvious like details about Te Tiriti and the way our nation Aotearoa / New Zealand began, there is a lot of complexity running successful education programmes at historic sites (not saying that we have been successful in all instances, but we are certainly trying very hard). My colleague has described aptly feeling like a wheke, an octopus, stretching out tentacles to build relationships with students, teachers, whānau, the other staff, the other visitors, delivering an effective learning programme all while keeping the children safe and looking after herself - and within 3 hours (note how, like for most teachers, the looking after self comes last?). One of our biggest challenges is that we just have the one opportunity to get it right.

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For those that don't know, the Waitangi Treaty Grounds come under the Waitangi National Trust, established from the very generous donation by Lord and Lady Bledisloe (here you can read more about the trust). There is a lot of emphasis on education in our organisation, and I had a hand in formulating our education vision:
To provide learners of all ages and from all backgrounds with world class opportunities to critically engage with Waitangi, the place, with Te Tiriti o Waitangi and the Treaty of Waitangi and with the history of Aotearoa / New Zealand as a nation.
Sounds good, but what does this actually look like? While we had no immediate predecessor on hand to induct us into the world of 'museum education', we had lots of help from staff that had been here before us, so we started out with resources on hand and modified these to make them less 'transfer of knowledge from us to students' and more 'students reflect on what they see and on the relevance to them'.

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Our school visits last for 3 hours, and we often have a visit in the morning and one in the afternoon. At the beginning of the year we had little time to connect with teachers before their visit, so our programmes were less personalised than we liked. However, after meeting with about 3000 students, we had fallen into a comfortable routine - and if you know me, comfortable usually is a sign for me that things need to change...

Little nudges came from different sides, discussions with our Advisory Group (a group of local teachers and principals), with visiting teachers & principals, with other staff members here at the Treaty Grounds, with the designers of our upcoming exhibition in the Treaty House, meetings with other education providers around Northland, from our own experiences in the classroom etc. We had already visited some of the other local historic sites, and two weeks ago we had the opportunity to visit Te Papa's Hīnātore Learning Lab, the He Tohu Exhibition at the National Library and museum educators from Auckland's War Memorial Museum.

Some of my realisations and questions (in no particular order):

  • Most young people see museums as places for old people. Why would you choose to go to a museum when you can search completely digitised collections on Google?
  • Some teachers see museums as places where you (only) gather information and facts.
  • Bringing the learning to the students applies as much for historical places and museums as for classrooms - and they spend a lot of time online...
  • Personalising learning is vital to make a visit successful - who wants to pay a lot of money to travel here and then not take away what they came for? Even better, take away more than they expected...
  • Integrating multi-media and digital technology in an exhibition does not guarantee that it caters for different learning needs (see my posts on UDL).
  • Our grounds are starting to offer more than we could possibly cover in a 3 hour education programme, especially when you include kai breaks, a run around, maybe a cultural performance etc. However, is it actually appropriate to cover everything in one visit? Why would anyone ever want to come back if they feel they have 'seen it all' before?
  • What about our visitors from further afield, who will likely only come once; how can we ensure they 'see it all' and thoroughly in the time available?
  • There does not seem to be a 'child friendly' online resource about Te Tiriti etc.
  • How do we design our programmes in a poutama approach that offer more complex learning the older the students get?
For now our first step is to truly personalise visits, and we already had some very positive feedback on this. We are also going away from the 'traditional' worksheets and are offering students choices about what they are focusing on during the visit, while linking it to the NZC and to the way they get assessed for NCEA. Without reliable and fast internet for visitors in place, using digital technology during the visit is still fairly limited at the moment.

It was great to meet other museum educators on our recent trip and have a glance at what they are doing. I was most fascinated by their use of digital technology within their programmes:
The Hīnātore Lab (read more about that here) obviously was 'right up my alley', using various digital technologies to help students engage with the museum exhibitions: How about designing and 3D printing your own mouth piece for a pūtātara, or your own waka hourua? I have plenty of ideas of what we could do, even without wifi, starting from photo collages to stop motion animation to movie clips etc. There remain plenty of questions, though, like are schools prepared to bring their own devices, are they set up for what we need to do, can we trouble shoot problems on the spot, and, very important, do we have enough time???
In Auckland we got to meet with the educator in charge of the Gallipoli Minecraft project, you can imagine that I would love to try something like this in our context... I don't think I have to remind anyone that I am NOT thinking of using digital technology for the sake of technology, but to transform learning (see my posts on RAT and SAMR). 

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However, there are existing expectations and perceptions that might need shifting: What do teachers think is the purpose of a school visit to the Treaty Grounds? As we discussed with our Auckland colleagues, schools don't necessarily know what else beyond gathering facts and knowledge could be offered at a museum. How can we change existing perceptions?

We have encountered some existing perceptions of a different kind which we are slowly shifting. Some of our schools have been surprised that they now need to pre-book their visits and that there are limits on how many students we can cater for per visit, also that they need to be accompanied by member of our team. We have had to turn away a few groups which always saddens me, but usually we are able to come to an arrangement (different day) that works for everyone. The reason for this is that our grounds are very busy, especially over the summer. The new Health & Safety at Work act requires us to look more closely at how we are looking after the safety of all our visitors. We are catering for a large number and wide variety of visitors on any given day, and we rely on the admission charges to fund what we are doing. We are starting to see schools take note of this and book further in advance which is really helpful.

Probably the most important perception to shift lies with the students: Museums are no just for old people, they are places for personalised and active learning for everyone.

Watch this space...

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Museum Education in 21C

Long time no post and what exciting times these were! In January I was appointed as Education Manager at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds which is my first appointment into museum education. I am loving every minute of it, and the learning curve has been huge. 

Growing up in Europe I have visited plenty of traditional museums. They were places to (quietly) visit for the purpose of looking, listening and learning. In 21C with digital technology allowing us to look, listen and learn just about anything, how does our idea of a museum have to change to remain relevant?

At the Treaty Grounds we are in a situation where the museum is a recent addition to the existing historic buildings and exhibits. It not only adds space to exhibit additional items, it complements and extends the narrative beyond the early period of New Zealand's history. Technology is present throughout the museum in the form of videos, interactive screens to give additional details and touch screens to explore and search digital copies of the Treaty of Waitangi copies. The rest of the grounds have mainly traditional displays.

As Educational Manager my focus is on education for school aged children but some of my questions transcend into other age groups. Our days have been so busy that I am yet to meet with other NZ museum educators who no doubt have 'been there, done that', but for now my questions are:
What is the purpose of schools (people) visiting here? What do they get here that they can't search up on Google? Or to rephrase this question: What are we doing to ensure students leave here with more than just facts they could have 'googled'? (We have drafted our vision, and I will share it once we are happy with it.)

While it would be very convenient to simply stick with the transfer of knowledge, we know that this is not enough for learners in the 21st Century, so for now we have come up with three steps:
Collect information - Connect this information - Reflect on it.

Potential barriers to achieving our goals include:
  • Learning hinges on relationships, and there is little if any time to build a real relationship with the students or their teachers. Saying that, it is amazing how you can connect through chatting with them while walking from one venue to another.
  • Being time poor and having set ideas about what museum education could / should offer can affect what schools expect / request and what we offer.
  • The 3h duration of the visit limits how deeply we can delve into topics with our visiting students. Is it sufficient time to collect, connect & reflect during a visit?

In absence of reliable connectivity our visitors can tap into, our activities so far have been rather traditional: Worksheets encouraging students to reflect on what they see and hear, and practical activities to go with our korero. While feedback so far has been very positive, I don't want to get stuck in a rut, and I am sure we can do better. Therefore I am looking for more and innovative ways of engaging our learners so they connect and especially reflect.

What do you think Museum Education should look like in 21C?

Looking forward to reading your ideas!