Monday, August 23, 2010

Action Research

This year I returned to study at the University of Melbourne in the Master of School Leadership program run through the Bastow Institute. It's a two year course delivered by intensive, on campus study in three, two day blocks each semester. The reading and the assessment schedule are fairly intense on top of a pretty crowded full time work schedule but I'm really enjoying the intellectual challenge and the opportunity to learn from amazing educators and fellow student colleagues.

One of the major requirements of the course is an Action Research Project designed to effect change in our school and improve student learning. Last year I was involved in the Leaders in the Making program and together with other participants from the Warrnambool network we identified online behaviour as one of the leading problems in all our schools. We put together a proposal for the network principals to initiate a student led action group to educate parents as a way of improving the digital footprints of our students. Due to almost all our group members falling pregnant during the course (luckily my advanced age provided me with immunity from that!) our plans for this project have gone on hold. So, given that the problem with online behaviour has worsened rather than improved since then, it seemed a logical idea for me to pick up and continue in the MSL project.

My ruminations about the content of the project can be found on the collaborative wiki set up for my school team participants and I would appreciate it if anyone who has taken enough interest to read my blog could also take the time to read my project outline. My biggest problem is narrowing down the information I want to find out and deciding what exact course of action I might take once I've found the information. I would sincerely like to solve all the problems of the world in one go and I hate being restricted to achievable chunks! Unfortunately this attitude frequently leads to a revolving crisis of brilliant ideas and no action.

On Friday we had a visit from Michael Phillips, an educational researcher from Monash University. Michael is conducting research into students' online behaviour with a view to compiling a guide book for them explaining the legal ramifications of some of the stuff they do online. We had previously completed some of his online surveys and I was really interested to meet him as a lot of the questions in his survey related directly to the ideas I'm keen to pursue in my study. One of his sessions involved interviews with several of our middle school teachers. During that interview it became evident to me that I was not alone in thinking of the internet as just another place where kids hang out and that our reaction to this space needs to be the same as any other space our students use. Much of our discussion revolved around the tendency of school administration to use the 'block, ban, ignore' method of dealing with issues that occur online with the excuse that it 'didn't happen in school time'. Unfortunately a lot of it is now happening in school time. Free facebook access on most smart phones means that status updates are happening from inside classrooms and during breaks and when those updates are negative toward someone in the school then I'm pretty sure it's a school issue.Online incidents that happen after school almost invariably end up on the welfare officer's doorstep at the start of each school day. We also talked about the idea that, in a lot of education circles, social media is almost always referred to in a negative context with the emphasis on the perceived dangers, rather than as the incredibly useful communication tool that we see it to be.

One of the reasons I've chosen this area to study is that I feel so strongly that social media can provide another avenue for building the kind of strong relationships that are the heart and soul of every good school. This blog post by Ric Murry tells it like it is. I certainly think that part of the reason my students do so well is that they want me to be proud of them. We have the kind of mutually respectful relationship that engenders best effort and it's simply not possible to get the same results unless you care about the kids and they care about you. Today is my birthday and it is interesting to note the different ways the kids at school helped me to celebrate. I had a birthday wish from the entire school at assembly this morning, the 5-7s sang a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday and the Yr 12s shared some of their mad Monday cake with me during Drama. the time I checked my facebook as I was finishing this post, more than a dozen current and ex students had taken the time to post a personal birthday message to my wall. That's a lovely, real way of communicating and connecting and it's worth fighting for.

Anyway, as usual I digress. As you can see I've done a lot of talking with like minds and I've become an avid reader of other bloggers and almost without exception the same themes keep recurring, all reiterating my own thoughts about online spaces and behaviours but also confusing me by adding even more thoughts and ideas to the maelstrom spinning around in my head. I need help with the focus of my project.
I'm off to eat more cake. Please check out my wiki and give me some guidance!

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