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Action Research takes 5 minutes!


I frequently hear teachers say something along the lines of “There’s too much out there…I don’t have time to sort out what will have the biggest impact on my teaching”.  They might as well add ‘So, I’ll do nothing’.

Wise people know that when we say “I haven’t got time”, what we’re really saying is “It’s not important to me”

The answer is simple ‘Just try one thing’.  Just give one thing a go (C’mon, we all have a hunch that one or two things that might make a difference to our students’ learning), and then have a conversation with a peer about it (or maybe better still, with your students!).  Guess what?  That’s Action Research!  That’s changing a variable, and even on the most simple level, assessing what kind of a difference it made.

Once you get the hang of that small step [(1) act (2) have conversation], it’s time to broaden your experience and see if someone else has had some BIG ideas about what you’re doing…use a search engine, send out a tweet, read a journal or a book!

Now, using your new wisdom, refine your variable, practice your variable, keep up the chatter with some trusted peers or students about the impact of the variable.

And when you’re ready, introduce another variable.


Improvement is that simple.



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Subversion in Education: Twitter made me do it.


The teaching community who utilise Twitter seem a pretty cheerful, innocuous bunch.  Ideas are mooted, resources are shared and encouragement is available by the bucket-load.

But appearances can be deceiving.  Scratch the surface, and the reality becomes clear…the ‘tweachers’ are, in fact, a bunch of  rabid revolutionaries, intent on the overthrow of ‘the system’ while ushering in a new world of educational anarchy. Check out what they’ve been up to:

Employees share trade-secrets and assist the ‘competition’ to get ahead by making resources and ideas freely available.

Employees access and interact with people whose ideas about the future of our business would have our company change wholesale structures, and even raze our business so that a new model can be enacted.

Employers coach employees from other companies to challenge and disrupt the thinking of their own leaders.

Accepted sectorial agendas are being progressively undermined by evidence and precedent from previously unheard of international competitors.

Employees are setting up rival companies and not-for-profits to support this radical new agenda.

Clients are being told to ask for more and to expect more.  Some employees are actively encouraging clients to go elsewhere for better services.

Pockets of revolutionary behaviour are sweeping the globe as employees ignore the priorities of their employers and implement their own work practices.  The little people are rising.


Child Rights: Is your school meeting its obligations?


This week, I’ve had the priviledge of working with a NGO (Non-Government Organisation) at the UN in Geneva.  NGOs form an important part of the monitoring and reporting capabilities of the UN, especially with regard to human rights.    The NGO access-pass has allowed me to sit in on discussions and deliberations at the Human Rights Council and the Committee for the Rights of the Child about matters as diverse as the human rights situation in Gaza, whether ‘cutlural rights’ can be defined, adoption procedures in Albania, the quality of the education that Roma children have access to, child refugee programs on the Thai-Laos boarder and pretty much everything in between.  I even heard Syria lecture other states on their record of human rights!

One aspect of the work of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) that I’ve become aware is the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), that each country undergoes every 4.5 years.  Essentially, the UPR offers a “peer review” of nation states by all members of the UN.  Each nation state (eg, Australia, Bolivia or the USA) submits a report to the UNHRC, documenting their progress in implementing or maintaining Human Rights within their country. This report is is complemented by investigations by the UN iteslf and (most importantly) the submission of reports by any registered NGOs who wish to pass comment on progress in that nation (whicc is often the only true depiction of what is actually happening ‘on the ground’).  The State Under Review (SuR) then experinces a 3.5 hour grilling by the UNHRC, whereby any UN member country can question the actions of the SuR, and challenge them to provide evidence that universal human rights are being upheld (which webcast for all to see).  Finally, a report is then prepared on behalf of the UNHRC, making recommendations to the member state about areas of Human Rights that require attention, action and progress – and be assured, they are very thorough!

Every UN nation has undergone a UPR, and all countries have therefore received recommendations about how to improve the enacting of human rights in their country.  At their next UPR, each country is expected to report back on their progress agains the recommendations given in their previous UPR and on any new areas of progress.  The first round of countries who have undergone two UPRs have just been completed, so some of you will be able to compare the last report and the most recent one, to see if you country is actually making progress!

The report (‘Outcome of the Review’) for your country is available for viewing here and it provides an interesting reading for a whole variety of reasons!  One thing to be aware of in reading your coutry’s report, is that EVERY recommendation made by another country gets a mention in the report – even if it is merely repeating what another country might already have said.  It’s fascinating to see what different countries are intersted in making recommendations about, and who is looking to chastise the SuR for various breaches of human rights…it certainly is a very open and frank process!

Of even greater interest to schools…

Of even greater interest to those of us in schools, is the five yearly review of each country’s progress against the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  In a similar process to the UPR, each UN member state submits itself every five years for one day of questioning over their committment to the rights of children up to the age of 18.  Once again, NGOs can submit reports to either support or challege the report of a Nation State (a good example of this is the 2012 review of Australia, where a number of groups submitted reports challenging the State’s account of the care of asylum seeker children).  A report of recommendations from the Committee of the Rights of the Child on areas that require action is prepared and disseminated.  Each country can also participate in a reviews of some optional protocols, such as Children and Armed Conflict and Children and Sexual Exploitation.  The concluding documents of each country are found here and they provide a really rich set of recommendations that schools could use to ensure that they are writing policies and procedures in line with the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  These reports are much more clear to read, and their is less repitition than the UPR reports, as the final recommendations are prepared by a Committee.

A great activity for senior students: The final reports prepared on each nation from the Committee on the Rigths of the Child are also great documents to use with senior students to help them better understand child rights and the moral obligation of states (especially their own country).  An intersting expercise migth be to compare the recommendations made to a developed country, with that of a nearby developing country.

In my next post, I’m going to explain some of the recommendations made to Australia, as a means of showing how far reaching the reports of the UNHRC are.


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What really mattered…


Last week, our whole staff were privileged to attend the Sandhurst Education Conference.  Hosted by our Catholic Education Office, the conference was two days of horrible weather, terrible 3G service and (let’s face it) fairly ordinary food!  Listening to staff conversations this week however, it’s clear that the conference ‘nailed it’ where it matters.  I can’t tell you how many fantastic discussions I’ve walked into or sat down amongst these past two days back at school.  Our teachers and support staff are enthused and excited about the ideas they heard and the people they met.  I have not come across one person on our staff who didn’t get something profound out of the two days.  Classroom architecture, differentiated curriculum, servant leadership, inquiry learning, habits of mind, courageous living, mentoring, ICT in Ed, spirituality, Gen Z, artistic grace…these are the topics (and more!) swirling around in people’s hearts and minds.   In the middle of a long and busy term, it was just the pick-me-up we all needed to continue our pursuit of the best ways to engage learning and pursue excellence (in whatever form that might take).  Of course, the challenge now is to breath life into the ideas, and channel our renewed energy into ‘wins’ for ourselves and for the students.

One great pleasure for me as Principal, is the knowledge that these discussion will turn into recommendations and actions.  We have the structures in place for this to happen, but more importantly, I believe we now have a critical mass of teachers with the confidence to make things happen.  Risk-taking or ‘giving it a go’ is now common in our classrooms.  There is a new playfulness to our culture, which encourages and inspires us to give things a try.  Daily, I feel encouraged and supported by teachers who shoot through an email, or drop in for a chat about something new they are attempting with their students.  They are ‘leaders’ (many by their action, rather than by title) who dare to encourage, dare to try, and dare to ask.  They are managing change.  They are considering how to prepare their peers for new frontiers.  They are evaluating and tweaking.  They are courageously moving us into a new way of being.

I might be wrong, but it feels to me like the conference brought us all onto the same page in a way that no plan or policy could possibly have done.  We were affirmed in our steps thus far, and emboldened to go further.  We were held up as leaders, but also found mentors amongst those in other places who are pursuing, enabling and ennobling learning with purpose and joy.  They say the Spirit moves in mysterious ways.  At our place, she’s drawing us to a new professional collegiality that not so long ago, we couldn’t possibly have imagined.

Tweachers are a new breed…


Every time someone else I know gets the Twitter bug, I get so excited.  I’ve come to realise that the reason I love Twitter so much is that it opens my world to so much more than the small interests and daily interactions and experiences of my world.  I am 100% certain that my professional and private life are better because of the people I’ve met and the ideas I’ve encountered through Twitter.  I think about broader topics and make links between people and ideas that I would never otherwise have considered.

This morning (Saturday morning!), one of the Home Ec teachers at my school emailed me to ask if she can start a Blog related to her classes (note to self: why did she feel the need to ask?  What have I not communicated/encouraged?).  Of course she can (Go get ’em, @JgeorgeJulie)! Even more exciting was her second email, that was CC’d to our English Coordinator (@JacDeola) and our Literacy/Numeracy Leader (@KateGready), and asked if we could do more to build spelling across the Curriculum…with a suggestion for how to go about it!

I put her enthusiasm down to the magic of Twitter.  While Julie is searching for information, connections and ideas about Home Ec, she is also encountering inspiring readings about literacy, thinking skills and the ways other schools are developing the learning experiences of their students.  Rarely a day goes by when I don’t sit down to a conversation with a staff member about something they learnt on Twitter the evening before.  We talk about various Tweeps (whom we don’t know in person) with great familiarity.  We swap “good follows” and remind each other to check out an article we retweeted.  We get excited for each other when someone gets a reply for a question they’ve asked (especially if it’s from one of our learning heroes).  Most importantly though, we talk about learning in so much and in so many  ways that simply didn’t happen before we all got involved in Twitter.  We look with pity on those who don’t know what we’re talking about…

As a Principal, I can’t help looking more favourably on those staff who are taking the time and effort to expand their world through their online connections.  I feel constant frustration that some teachers (and many of my Principal Colleagues) don’t/can’t appreciate how their own learning can be so enhanced by such a small effort, and I would love to have the courage to ask more people “do you think life-long-learning applies to everyone but you”?


PS: You can check out all the St Joseph’s Staff on Twitter: here

Explainable, not excusable.


During the staff days at the start of the year, we had a terrific session with Jo Lange. Jo was working with us on the simple techniques that help reduce behavioural issues in the classroom, and how to manage some of the more high end disruptive behaviours. She explained the broad categories that disruptive students fall into, and explored some of their key motivations for disruptive behaviour, which was all tremedously useful.

One of the key things that has stayed with me since that day, is the idea of exploring with students the notion that poor behaviour chioces can be thought of as “explainable, but not excusable”. More and more, I find our students able to explain their behaviour (“I did it because…”), while failing to see that even while there might be truth in their reasoning, that particular behaviour is not excusable in our community. Perhaps even more so, parents can fall into this trap and the ensuing blame game.

I have found the simple phrase “Yes, I understand that behaivour is explainable, but that does not make it excusable” pulls the antagonists up short, and turns the discussion in a more productive direction almost immediately. I commend it to you as a useful tool in your kit.

Interestingly, I have also heard a few teachers use the phrase when speaking about their peers. Utilising our “Agreed Behaviours” from earlier in the year, discussions are able to occur more readily, because our team leaders and experienced teachers feel empowered to begin a discussion, highlighting the difference between why “something” is happening, and whether that “something” (such as a teacher using a different assessment task to the rest of their team, or a staffmember failing to use our agreed behaviour management steps) is acceptable in our community.

None of us a perfect, and this approach to professional accountability requires sensitivity, trust and care on behalf of all those invovled, to ensure that we are building up our colleagues and their professional ability. In inexperienced or agenda-driven hands, the encouragement to engage in challenging professional conversations could endanger our community and the sense of collegiality we have. Our short-term anecdotal evidence is that, in fact, the opposite is occurring…

Be Aware. Be Courageous. Be More.


This is an extract from the address I made to staff on the first day of 2012.

A couple of weeks before the end of school, a group of students and staff crowded into the Hopwood room to discuss, deliberate and discern a framework to help our school community better reflect and grow throughout 2012. Over the last two years, we have examined the notions of “Strength and Kindliness” in greater detail.  They have formed the basis of our prayer life, our reflections, and the key addresses to our community.  The group decided that whilst one option might, be to spend the next five years looking at each of the Core Values in turn, a more prudent approach might be to introduce an annual theme, which could provide a lens, or a window onto the way we engender and live the Core Values and our motto “Strength and Kindliness” each day.  To this end, it’s my pleasure to announce that our College theme for 2012 is “Be Aware. Be Courageous.  Be More”.

I don’t know about you, but I find those six words very exciting and confronting.  I’ve had the luxury of being able to mull over the theme for a few weeks now, and am startled by how many areas of our lives they apply to.  If you think about your attitude to our Professional learning time together over the next few days, how can you be aware, be courageous and be more.  If you think about the preparation of your classes, how can you be aware, be courageous, be more?  If you think about your care of the students with whom you your spend time, or about your spirituality, how can you be aware, be courageous, be more.  As a school, when we speak about respecting ourselves, each other and our environment, how can we, as a community be aware, be courageous and be more?  When we talk about Strength, or Kindliness, or welcoming all, especially the most vulnerable, how can we be aware, be courageous, be more?

To be aware is an interesting challenge to attend to.  Awareness implies that we are attuned to the moment, cogniscent of what has been before and with an eye to the future, but most importantly awareness is profoundly engaged in the people and events our any given moment.  Awareness calls us to notice emotions, needs and dynamics in a more subtle way, and it requires our time, our quietened mind and our open heart, so as to most truly discern the most important instance in any given encounter.  Awareness needs peace of mind and it grows when practised.  To this end, every Friday morning, we will be gathering as a staff for meditation and prayer, to cultivate our awareness and give space to God to enter our hearts and minds, so as to increase our awareness of our own needs, and the needs of others.  In each day however, the challenge lies with each of us to be attuned our call to “Be Aware” to our own needs, and the needs of others in our community.

To Be Courageous is a spectacular challenge in anyone’s books.  Each day, there are little moments where we are called to step outside our comfort zone for any one of a number of reasons.  As people involved in Catholic education, we are repeatedly called to be courageous in confronting things that are morally wrong – in our students, in each other, and in our world.  This year we have committed to the development of “agreed behaviours”.  Our growth as people and as educators will rely on our common courage to challenge behaviours and actions in each other that do not enhance the learning of our students, or the building of our community.

Building our personal courage and empowering each other and the students to do the same is scary, because it intrinsically acknowledges that we each know that we can do better, that we can expect more from each other, that we can dream of and build a school community that is better than the one we have now.  Change requires courage, and being courageous calls us to new horizons and challenges.

For many months now, the Leadership Team have been using the book “Uncommon Gratitude” as the basis of our prayer during our meetings.  The section we read just this week reminded us that “it is precisely those unstable eras of our lives that make or break us.  They bring great changes to bear on us.  They draw greatness out of us.  They demand of us the holy audacity to believe that, having dealt with the past, I am equal to the future as well.  Today I can handle,  I know.  Tomorrow may ask something of me that I have never been called to give before.  I am not prepared for it; I am simply there.  But every new day that I cope with well is another exercise in the courage I did not know I had.”  Be Aware. Be courageous. Be more.

The phrase “Be More” is stolen straight from Caritas Australia’s campaigns over the past few years.  It is aspirational.  It encourages us to dream, and to be audacious in our goals. If we began each day, each class, each interaction with the simple maximum “Be more” quietly chanting in our souls, what possibilities there might be.  I have this funny feeling that as we get older, the call to “be more” gets quieter and quieter in our hearts, as we settle onto familiar patters and expected behaviours.  Our challenge this year is to reawaken that chant, and allow it to disturb and disrupt us.  To allow it to open our inner eye to the possibilities we possess within, and to impel us forward into new ventures and new ways of being.  Do you have a vision of what your “more” is.  Have you every fully allowed yourself to imagine how different you could be if you unleashed all your professional, public and private purpose in the direction of “being more”.  This year, our challenge is not only to open ourselves to “being more” but to encourage and support others to do the same.  Our culture unconsciously hinders change and growth…the tall poppy syndrome in which Australians specialise is just one example of this, but we can and must overcome it, not just for the sake of our students and our professional integrity, but for the sake of ourselves, our unspoken dreams, and the private, persistent call in each of our hearts that we can, and must, be more.

I heard recently of a gentleman who had worked with teachers in some of the most dangerous places on our planet, the favaelas of South America, the slums of Gaza, the make-shift schools in refugee camps throughout Africa.  He shared the stories of teachers who said goodbye to students at the end of the day, knowing in their hearts that there was a more than reasonable chance those children could be murdered during the night.  In telling these stories, he asked a simple question: if you could know that the young person in front of you might not make it through to tomorrow’s dawn, how would you change your teaching and their learning?  This might seem like an extreme example to make a simple point, but when it comes right down to it, what would you most want that child to learn, and how would you want to inspire and build that learning, so that the student left your care feeling valued and celebrated?  Do we teach or interact as if today is that student’s last day? Do we ever enter the conversation or correct the behaviour thinking this might be the last time this young person hears our voice? Do we remember that our students are precariously vulnerable in so many ways, and that whilst it is unlikely that armed gunmen are waiting in the street for them, their mental, emotional and spiritual health could be far from stable? Be aware. Be courageous. Be more.

As educators in a Catholic school, we have a Covenant that is far greater than any contract.  Contracts put boundaries and understandings around roles.  Covenant is an ancient word, referring to the binding agreements that pertain to every aspect of ourselves: our character, our aspirations and our vocation.  The Covenant of a Catholic educator challenges us to see the world as God sees it, full of potential and possibility.  The Covenant inspires us to do better, to strive for more, to draw ourselves ever closer to the perfect version of ourselves that God so dearly wants us to be.  When we prioritise our Covenant over our contract, we truly recognise ourselves as God’s hands, voice, feet and heart in our world.  We understand that we are the conduit through which God brings light and justice, love and peace into dark corners and sad hearts.  We believe ourselves to be the vehicles through which lives are changed. Be aware. Be courageous. Be more.

This year, in very particular ways, we have charged ourselves and each other with the responsibility of doing everything in our power to make our students learning experience more valuable and engaging.  Whether you’re a classroom teacher or support in any of the many other roles within our community, essentially our eyes are all on the same prize – that the young people in our care receive from us an education that allows them to grow into the best person they can be.  The Covenant calls us to ensure that every encounter brings life and possibility to the young people in our care. In this way, our commitment to developing a differentiated curriculum, our exploration of e-learning days, the undertaking of the acceleration program, the growth of the work of our PLTs , the introduction of Habits of Mind, and the rewriting of our Vision, Mission and Graduate Outcomes are more than the responsibilities we must undertake, they are our enacting of the Covenant we have with our God in very real ways.  Luckily for us, covenants are a two way straight, and while we work hard ensuring that God has our hands, feet, voice and heart in this world, God steadily supplies us with the joy-filled and satisfying experiences and people that make life such a gift.  In this respect, I really believe that here at St Joseph’s we are blessed many times over!

We have another busy and exciting year ahead of us.  We will have our ups and our downs, both professionally and personally.  None of us are perfect, but we together, we are a special and unique community, who make God present in our world in any number of ways.   We have a rich heritage and an exciting future, and I for one, am seriously excited about the possibilities before us in 2012.  I look forward to your input, your energy, your care of the students, your care of each other, the laughter, the adventures and even the difficult times.  I look forward to sharing them with you, and I look forward to sitting here in eleven months time, celebrating the journey we have undertaken and the miracles and joys we have encountered along the way.

Agreeing to disturb each other…


One of our first staff activities for 2012 was to discuss and begin to settle on our “agreed behaviours” as a collegial team.  Towards the end of 2011, we invited all staff (teachers and ancillary) to put forward some suggestions about areas where they believed we as a staff had conflicting approaches that hindered our work with the students and also increased the stress of our peers.  The list included everything from teaching the agreed curriculum and following behaviour management protocols, through to professional dress, having a tidy workspace and an engaging, clean classroom.  We ended up grouping the suggestions into five key areas: “Trusting relationships”, “Professional dialogue”; “Learning is the core focus”, “Professional Duties” and “2012 Stress-Busters”.

As we reconvened from the teams where we had been discussing not only what the “agreed behaviour” might look lie, but how we would like to be reminded/approached if we “fell of the bandwagon”, the atmosphere in the room was electric.  “That was the most real conversation we’ve ever had” said one of our teachers. “I feel like we talked about things that have always been taboo” said another.  “I like that we had a professional conversation about how to hold each other accountable” chimed in a third.  The rest of the room was nodding along.

What a wonderful fresh appreciation of professional relationships we’ve started the year with!  We’re not (and never have been) a dysfunctional staff by any means, but the buzz as we look forward to the kids beginning on Monday is tremendous.  There is a confidence that the real issues have been brought to front and centre, and that even in doing this brief exercise, let alone the power of the potential of the follow-up conversations, we have given license to each other to courageously encourage each other to “be more” in our teaching and other professional duties.




I was in a conversation today with some peers, when someone remarked that she had been speaking with a group of teachers who had recently transferred from Government schools into Catholic and Independent schools. They were remarking on how lazy teachers were in their new schools, pulling out last year’s curriculum and teaching it over and over, because they had the luxury of classes that were relatively compliant. They believed that in the Government sector, teachers were forced to be much more responsive to the needs of the students in their class each year, to ensure that the learning met the needs of that particular group of students, who could change in attitude and achievement level quite dramatically from one year to the next. I think their observations are largely correct (yes – big generalisation there…of course there are exceptions).

It seems to me that a good number of our teachers expect to be able to use the activities they prepared for their class the year before (or perhaps, many years before) each year. The mindset of preparation for the new group each year is not as strong amongst our staff, because they haven’t needed to make dramatic changes before.

The move to 1:1 curriculum, and even a differentiated curriculum is therefore an even greater cultural change for us, because there really isn’t a culture of “starting again”, each year.

Interesting times. Would love to hear your thoughts.

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The E-Learning Classroom


This Blog post is a component of a Cert IV in Training and Assessment (hence the formal language & super obvious observations!).

Having observed the required 3 hours of elearning classes throughout our College, it is evident that there is a great variety of approaches to the use of elearning throughout the school.  Certainly Wikis (used with Blogs) and Nings are the predominant forms used by teachers to hold resources together and to build units, but increasingly, teachers are utilising SIMON (our LMS) as the foundation site for student work.  I looked at the unit and lesson plans (mostly found online now), and was really pleased that staff development of units if soundly based on the VELS and VCE.  In this, the units are rigorous and sequentially developed.  The College Base Wiki (http://sje.wikispaces.com/) holds the vast majority of the school’s wikis, although there are others which have not yet been linked.  The majority of these requires students to either maintain their work on a Blog (usually Global2 Blogs) or to complete work in other programs and upload to SIMON.  In this way, a lot of the curriculum is now being experienced by students in an elearning format.

The classes I observed were using a combination of WIKI/Blog and Ning respectively.  The Ning has the advantage of being much more self contained, in that students can have their own page within a secure site.  This is ideal for VCE classes who require an online environment to share, practice and discuss their ideas.  The WIKI/Blog combination seems to be used more in junior classes, because student information, where there appears to be a lot less online discussion and/or collaboration.  I wonder if this isn’t an area for growth.  Certainly, the students are used to the format, and use Wikis/Blogs and the Ning with confidence.  It is difficult to judge if improvement is increased, but all students are quickly tracked for their contribution, and can receive quick feedback from their peers and teacher, so there must be some credit in that.

Observation revealed that most tasks saw students working first independently on their elearning, and then moving into a collaborative mode, sharing ideas and/or commenting on each other’s work.  This is an are that can definitely be improved.  Some classes were using GoogleDocs to contribute to the same piece of work, but this was the exception, rather than the rule, and usually used for brainstorming processes.

As a tool for submitting and marking assessment pieces, SIMON is liked by both students and staff for its ease of use.  From a teaching perspective, it is quick to see who has submitted their work, and is easy for keeping track of drafts and cumulative comments.   Students progress and feedback from teachers is accessible to parents through their online portal, so even greater accountability is maintained.

The rooms are safe, in that students have grown used to being careful about their power cords and having their bags tucked under seats to avoid tripping.  Many students now use their computer on their lap, rather than on a desk, and there are issues here around posture and potentially harmful emittance  from the computer (although I believe the jury is out on that issue).  The addition of the new glare-blinds has made a huge difference to classrooms.  Those rooms that do not have them are difficult to work in a screen environment with.

Suggestions I might make to the teachers who work with these classes is that greater space needs to be provided for online collaboration.  Wikis provide for this, but it is fiddly to build on a course each year in the WIKI environment (removing previous year’s discussion boards so as to be able to use the same/modified content again is problematic).  The new provisions within the next roll-out of SIMON should alleviate some of this, as discussions can be tagged to a class, rather than a course.

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