Enjoy - hope someone finds this mildly amusing. The Michael Bolton reference is a bit of an in-joke that contrasts my wife's musical tastes with my own. For the record, I did take Joanne to see Michael Bolton in concert a few years back, and he was very entertaining. I'm finding that the drawing part of trying to do a comic strip is the easy part - coming up with a story or anecdote or observation is definitely the hard part.
I described my Digital Leadership initiative in my last post and how students have signed on to participate. I managed to secure some time in our Resource Centre to supplement the lunchtime sessions so that students could work towards their badges. We have started with the twin options of MinecraftEDU and Sphero Robotics, but potentially down the track, the program could expand to Digital Leadership in iPads, BeeBots or other technology connected possibilities. We've had a Minecraft server for a few years now and I've blogged about some of the ways it has been used at our school after the research our school has done in the past.
But the Spheros are brand new to me and the students. So in the last three weeks since I took delivery of the 15 little robotic balls, I have held two afternoons and four lunchtime sessions with the sole intent of letting the Leaders loose to work things out for themselves. It has been fascinating to watch. We have a few accessories to use with the Spheros - rubberised covers, small plastic chariots that have a Lego like connection section and Terrain packs with ramps, poles and connectors to create a stunt park or obstacle course. I nabbed a building's travel case of ten iPads and downloaded eight of the most useful Sphero apps, and supplemented them with my own staff iPad and a couple of spare Nexus 7 tablets not currently being used for anything else.
The first challenge was getting the Spheros to connect and communicate with a device. The connection is made via Bluetooth and every Sphero flashes its own tri-colour sequence when woken. My eBay special at home here has a sequence of Green, Blue, Red so it appears in the BlueTooth settings as Sphero-GBR. But you can imagine the mayhem when a whole bunch of stuents double tap their Spheros to wake them, forget to see what sequence is flashing and are confronted by a list of four to seven visible devices that are offering connection!
We started to see that often the Sphero the Leader wanted to use would not respond, or would suddenly start showing its blue aiming light but be under the control of someone else in the room who did not really know what their app was doing but they could tell they were connected to something! Once the connection issues were sorted, students had no problems getting the Spheros moving around the area using the Drive app - a simple set of controls allowing direction and speed as well as the ability to change LED colours and a limited number of "tricks" (zigzag, figure 8, square, circle, lightning). They tried out the nubby covers, zoomed around in the chariots, even allowing me to insert my iPhone into one of them and filming a Sphero Chariot POV of the Resource Centre surrounds.
Eventually, a couple of the students asked to use the Terrain Pack gear and starting setting up jumps and obstacle challenges to drive the Spheros over and through. One of the badges I had designated was a Rally Driver's badge and we had some discussion about what this would entail. I talked about being able to successfully negotiate a prescribed route but that they could set up their own challenge. A number decided that getting over the long ramp as pictured left would be testament to their skill but it turned out not to be as easy as they first imagined! The Sphero's smooth surface spun and skidded on the way up so some Leaders switched to a cover to get some much needed traction. Eventually there was a lot of excitement as Spheros veered off track at the last second, as successful attempts went unwitnessed and unverified. A lot of play and a lot of learning was going on in all sessions, and the cooperative learning I envisaged was starting to unfold.
A couple of more adventurous students decided to try out some of the other apps. One leader tried out the Sphero app which turns the use of the ball into a gaming experience with levels, points and rewards. This is quite a good way to get students thinking creatively about the Sphero and not just see it as a toy to drive around. The tricks that can be unlocked in the Core Exchange show that colour and movement sequences can be humorous and artistic, and can lead to the use of the MacroLab app where the programming aspect of Spheros can be utilised. Only a a small number of students have felt confident enough to have a go in this app but the pride in creating and programming a simple Macro could be clearly seen in the face of the two Leaders who just had to show me what they had coded.
These leaders clearly need more time to grow their expertise and I am learning a lot just simply through observation and trying to solve their problems as they arise. Some students are even keen to help me pack everything up at the end of a session, ensuring that all Spheros are powered down and "asleep", everything in its correct box and easy to access for the next time. I want this group of about twenty students to be able to assist me when I start using these robotic balls with middle primary classes. One test lesson with a class in my building taught me that one teacher on his or her own will struggle to get first timers up and going without headaches galore. Having some expert Leaders on hand to help with connection, modelling appropriate care and encouragement will be of benefit to all parties. The teacher will appreciate the support, the students in the class will get a better lesson and the leaders will have helped others in their learning and put their particular skills to great use.
For someone who likes technology, particularly for learning, I have never been that interested in the field of robotics. For all of this recent focus on coding and programming in education, I haven't really got swept up in becoming personally skilled or knowledgeable in the area. I recognise its importance but have to admit to putting things like Lego MindStorms in the "too hard" basket. My interest has always been in the internet and like many self taught learners, it's easy to play to my own strengths and steer away from might be a steep learning curve out of my comfort zone.
The recent release of the Australian Curriculum for Technologies (pending final endorsement) has renewed the focus on specific ICT and digital technology skills. The Technologies curriculum is now split into two specific subjects - Digital Technologies and Design & Technology. The latter of these contains much of the SACSA Design & Technology curriculum and its focus on Design/ Make/ Appraise so in general, most of my primary school colleagues feel comfortable with the expectations of that subject. The Digital Technologies curriculum is a more specific focus on skills and knowledge that our previous state curriculum spent time integrating throughout the curriculum. So it feels a little bit like subject matter that is making a comeback even though we know that digital technologies work at a more sophisticated and lower cost point in our daily lives than even ten years ago.
We held one of our student free days as an Australian Curriculum focus, and had two DECD consultants spend half of the day focussing on the Digital Technologies curriculum. 2015 is a familiarisation year and we looked at several of the key concepts like computational thinking and programming. We looked at and used BeeBots and one of our talented upper primary teachers showed how her work with Lego MindStorm robotics was giving students opportunity to program. This teacher has been totally self taught after recognising the need within the upper primary students and led the way in overhauling our resources for Lego Robotics. She has spread her expertise across the whole five class unit, and even fostered interest through a lunchtime club. So, again, I know her work in this area is good but I have never dabbled using these tools myself. The BeeBots are great - simple in terms of setting out a sequence of commands and very accessible for early years students. After the day, I had a lot of teachers requesting that our meager supply of these robots be replenished. I've ordered them and they are on their way.
So, Beebots filled that need for the programming part of our new curriculum nicely for our Early Years students, and MindStorms is targetted at the Upper Primary area so I asked the consultants what would be best for the Middle Primary Students (Year 2, 3, 4) and their suggestion was the Probot. I then remembered that there were four of these sitting in a tub in my office! These were from one of the closing schools (my school was formed in 2011 from 3 smaller sites) and hadn't been touched in four years. To my mind, they weren't that much more sophisticated than the BeeBots, and when I went to purchase some, the price for each was over $160. That was $100 more than a BeeBot - withe major differences being that it was larger (not really a plus) and had an input screen so that instead of pushing > four times, I could key in 4> for the same result. Not exactly a quantum leap forward in extending programming skills, and potentially could have students complaining that Probots were boring and they were doing the same stuff as they would have with the BeeBot.
So sitting at my desk, I was hesitant to buy the fleet of Probots for the school because of these concerns. So, I turned to my trusty ally, the internet, as I was sure that there must be a better alternative to the Probot. Something to bridge the gap between BeeBot and Lego Robotics - but unique and engaging in its own way. I remembered that I had something that might be useful in my neglected delicious account - and found Romo. This is a neat idea where you plug an iPhone into a robotic base and interact with it. This was promising but not quite what I was after. The school isn't flush with iPad Touches and iPhones so I went looking anew.
Then I found what I was after - Sphero. Basically a ball shaped robot, controlled via apps on a tablet or device. The site was informative and I liked the fact that it linked into its own Education section. One of the Apps where I could imagine potential was MacroLab where users can create macros; basically long lines of commands in order to get Sphero to perform a particular action or routine. I could see the programming aspect coming into focus - but unlike MindStorms where the robots being built are very sophisticated, the ball robot was conceptually very simple. I watched some videos, and went to see Marg, my line manager, who has a deep background in digital learning to see whether her impressions matched mine.
My original thought was to buy one and play with it myself to work out the potential. Marg was more confident. "Buy a class set if you think that they are what you want," was her reassuring reply.
So I did.
I ordered them from the Sphero US store, and they arrived in under a week. (I am still waiting on the BeeBots, ordered from an Australian company!) I paid the GST import duty and bought power adaptors as they shipped with the US version. I bought covers for the Spheros and several Terrain packs which have click and hold pieces to create obstacles and barriers to manouevre the Sphero through. I also purchased an original Sphero on eBay (I ordered Sphero 2's for the school) for $46 as an investment in my own professional learning.
So, they are pretty cool and I think that they will serve the purpose I envisage. I had a search through my blogging connections to see if I could find anyone I knew using them for learning - my only link was to Wes Fryer's STEM resources as part of his after school Maker's club. He had four of the beasts and was feeling well resourced - but I had ordered fifteen!
How does Sphero work? Basically, the ball needs to be charged prior to use on its own induction stand. Three hours charging gives the user an hour's worth of constant use. I've downloaded about nine apps to try but the first one I have had students start on is Drive, a simple app that gets them to use the tablet as a remote control for the Sphero. They can control direction, speed and colour within that app. The standard Sphero app is wrapped up in a gaming interface where points accumulate for Missions and can be exchanged at the Core Exchange for pre-programmed Macros or tricks. This app is the one that gets users thinking beyond just getting it to move around and crash into things. An example is the Frog macro where Sphero turns green and jerks forward with a timed croak from the app. There are many others but these "tricks" then can lead to using MacroLab, where users can then create their own - the actual programming!
I'm only in the beginning stages of this all. I have been using my Digital Leaders at school to become the student experts using Spheros, and I have had to think through many logistical issues when using then ranging from charging to security, from sourcing enough iPads to dealing with multiple Spheros trying to connect to their iPad via Bluetooth all at the same time. These devices could suck up a lot of my time if I allow it, but I also still have to introduce them to staff, provide support in their use in classrooms and in planning for the coverage of the Digital Technologies curriculum. But this is still the first robot that I have got seriously excited about. We'll see how it progresses.
There are many factors that weigh into how quickly change of cultural mindset can occur. And as I've said before, at a school as complex as the one I work at, these factors are not easily or quickly countered. My school is considered as catering for a disadvantaged community but that does not mean universal neediness. It just means the range of what kids have access to in their home life is stretched out far wider than the average school. We have students who come to school hungry so teachers give them breakfast but also have kids who get dropped in Mercedes or BMWs. We have students whose parents never come for parent teacher interviews or avoid answering on their mobile if they see the school is calling, and we have kids who go to Kumon, and Saturday morning "Maths Wizard School" and then top it off with ethnic language school in the afternoon. We have kids who have no internet or computers and maybe a second hand parent owned mobile phone to kids who have laptops, iPads, Minecraft accounts, X Boxes and Playstation 4's. We have kids who use phones and the web totally unsupervised and with free reign to kids who are strictly supervised during homework time to ensure that the internet is only being used for studious purposes.
It's a different sort of disadvantage to the one described by Sugata Mitra in his "hole in the wall" research, where the kids involved had no access to education, had no access to social services and no technology of this kind in their world of poverty. When I heard him speak I kept thinking about our students and how regardless of social circumstance and simply because they live in an urban, Australian environment, are not as devoid of the infiltration of the commercial world of entertainment as those kids in rural India. I kept thinking that it was more likely that the "hole in the wall" kids would be self-learning, while the emotional influence of entertainment-heavy culture would have my students making different choices if the roles were reversed. And that culture is all pervasive - game shops, Foxtel, billboards, fun apps, fast food tie-ins, Snapchatting, Facebook games - it seems to be all about gratification dressed up as fun, and that combination is a hard way to combat.
I am convinced that for a sizeable section of my school student population, digital technology is simply about access to entertainment and socialising. It is a default mindset. It is the mindset that makes teachers wary about having personal mobile phones in the classroom, that keeps the most liberal minded technology leader cautious about taking off the web filtering. It affects teacher's headspace about giving up control - the fear that by allowing access to technology, students will default to what entertains rather than what will challenge and educate. We willingly concede to the "fun factor" when teachers push Mathletics and similar online learning platforms as being good use of technology time. It is harder to push through to meaningful and targetted use of technology for learning, to move up from the lower rungs of Bloom's Taxonomy and ensure that students are engaging in challenge and purpose. I'm not saying that games can't be challenging and purposeful - but without skillful learning design scaffolding the process, the entertainment gratification urge pushes itself to the forefront.
So this is a issue that I struggle with a lot. How to move use of technology from entertainment to learning. To get teacher headspace in a place where laptops and iPads are not "free time" rewards but valuable tools for documenting and constructing learning. Is anyone out there feel like they are winning this battle in similar circumstances to me? I'd love to have a conversation - here or anywhere online.
My role involves the management of a large budget - the school's allocation of funds towards its technology purchases. It is my responsibility to make decisions about spending that money wisely. Only a few years back at my former school it involved the creation of 3 year plans with purchases mapped out over a time span and the purchasing spread over that time. There was (in some schools still is) a general rule of thumb that desktop computers had a useful life of about 5 years and laptops about 3. Of course, we tried to squeeze as much life out of our machines as possible, with some of the laptops I purchased in 2007 still being used around the school when I left in 2011. But with a wider array of devices available in a number of platforms, the mapping of a structured plan is becoming less important but flexibility and adaptability are key ingredients when planning.
My employer, DECD, obviously agrees as seen in the recent release of their ICT Strategy for 2012-2014 (I know, ironically a three year plan!):
Given the dynamic nature of information and communication technologies (ICTs), and the rapid development of always connected technologies and devices, having a ﬁxed three-to-ﬁve-year strategic plan has become unsuitable. What is emerging however is the critical nature of continual improvement and utilisation to current resources while scanning and examining emerging technologies for their potential impact on, and use in, the areas of child development, care and wellbeing and teaching, learning and administration.
This really is common sense, and at WGS, we have decided to check out the developing technologies by using a Lighthouse Classroom project approach. Specifically, the eLearning Committee, and myself look for innovative applications of technology and classroom teachers offer to trial and feedback to the larger staff group. The Lighthouse classrooms get technical and pedagogical support from me in my role, but the nature of teachers who volunteer for things like this tend to trend towards risk takers, active learners and problem solvers. Projects range from trialling tablet devices to using blogs to using Minecraft for learning - and there are many more avenues of opportunity to go down. In the end, what we (the school community) are trying to foster is a culture of innovation. We want to move from a school with pockets of innovation (because every school has them, supported or subversive) towards being an innovative school. An innovative school which does not rest in its goal of improving learning for all students - and the more complex the school, the more innovative we will need to be to meet that aim.
So, the technology purchases and money must align with that aim. So, some budget goes towards these exploratory classroom projects, which then helps to inform more mainstream purchasing for the wider school classrooms. It is very important for me to do the "scanning and examining emerging technologies for their potential impact" to ensure that decisions are made wisely, balancing between what we need is needed right now and what needs to be explored for its potentially improved impact on learning.
At my school, we've tried something a little different when improving technology access for our upper primary classes. I had noticed that student ownership of the building laptop trolleys was lacking - the laptops were housed in a central common area where they were often left unplugged, leading to flat batteries, which led to kids helping themselves to power cords from the trolleys which led to the cords not be placed back correctly which led to more flat laptops. The teachers pointed out that less than 30 laptops for 150 kids was not enough, and I agreed. So it was time for a new model.
Now keep in mind that this school is less than two years old with an excellent wireless network and server infrastructure. But the devices were a motley array from the three closing schools - and the 2 trolleys worth (along with 15 white Macbooks for the Music program) were the only new laptops gifted to the school from the department - and they arrived early in the third term shortly after I started my role at the school. We had no choice in the model - they were large 15 inch HP notebooks. But the model in which access was set up meant that problems of wear, tear and care were going to be prominent.
So with this year's budget allocation and together with my line manager, we proposed a new model. Each classroom would have ten new laptops in a Lapcabby trolley for their classroom. We were keen to push our school's cross platform approach and philosophy - two classes asked for MacBook Pros and the other three were allocated Dell 13" XPS's. To forge forward, we also decided to provide 5 tablets for each classroom as well. The idea was tied to "just in time learning" - that there are many times in the day when a student needs access to a digital tool or the internet but the process of getting a laptop, logging onto the network etc. could theoretically be considerably shortened by an instant-on, swip'n'type tool like a tablet. Again, we wanted the students to be able to use different platforms so I purchased 15 Google Nexus 7's and 10 iPads. I talked through the vision behind this deployment with the building's (elected) teacher spokesperson. We imagined the classroom where the laptops were used for more substantive work - documents, presentations, projects, creations etc and the tablets were there available for the quick Google, the access to a digital dictionary or thesaurus, a quick formative assessment via a video reflection or a myriad of other small "pick it up, use it and then put it back" type of learning opportunities. I probably talked this scenario so well with this teacher so I presumed that the others were all on board and that I just had to get the technology out to the classrooms, and the teachers would just run with it.
Now, the fun for me has really begun as my assumptions and lack of knowledge of how tablets impact the classroom have shown through. Firstly, I discuss the iPads as they are still in their boxes waiting to be unpacked and set up. In Australia, we have only recently been given the green light to access Apple Education's Volume Purchase Program (otherwise known as the VPP) which is a solution for iPad app distribution that has been in place in larger marketplaces across the world for a while now. Prior to this, Apple vendors muttered under their breath about how to set up a school iTunes account, use it to create a master iPad and back it up to iTunes before imaging other iPads via the connect and back up to new device method. They wanted to sell iPads to schools, and while this process breached all sorts of licensing, they didn't want the lack of a VPP for Australia get in the way. Not every school has the luxury of a well off community to help fund iPad programs in a 1 to 1 device environment. Likewise, schools who wanted to see what impact tablets could make for technology access in the classroom wanted to get started and so the workarounds were implemented.
We hadn't really gotten too far with iPads at my school yet. I had two Lighthouse Classroom projects going where teachers were exploring the possibilities, and the Special Education team bought several from their own budget after attending training from Autism SA about the benefits for kids with learning disabilities. All of these iPads were set up in a pre-VPP fashion. But now that the VPP exists, I wanted to gather up all of the apps being purchased under one school account so that we would not be doubling up. I presumed that the VPP would enable us to create a cloud based app library for our school where iPads would be configured, logged in and the appropriate selected apps installed ready for use. Except the whole system is much more complicated than that, and I am still trying to wrap my head around all of the relevant details to understand how it will work in our school. I can log in as a Program Facilitator, browse the apps for sale but it requires a credit card for purchasing. The FAQ tells me that I can buy Volume Vouchers (that work in a similar fashion to the iTunes cards sold in shops) but a point of sale for these isn't evident to me. I'm now waiting on advice from my local Apple retailer on that one. There are no free apps in the Education Apps store, so I wonder how a school account can still access and use them as well. (Or is the message from Apple that free apps are not suitable for the classroom?) So until I am sure of how this monster of a system works, I won't be rushing the iPads into the classroom.
Which is what I did do with the Nexus 7's.
We have fantastic technical support at my school and use an outsourced model with a local company called IPAU. One of their guys showed the Nexus 7 before it had even gone on sale in Australia, and I have been excited about the potential for this in the classroom as that "just-in-time" device that I mentioned earlier. We ordered ours directly from Singapore at a price that the retailers don't match in Australia, and one of our techs tinkered under the hood to get it network compatible, and to password protect certain areas that we didn't want meddled with. This was mainly the settings area and the ability to purchase apps through the Google Play store. We had that done, I ordered some nice covers in different colours so that each classroom set of five had its unique colour, labelled them, inscribed them, recorded serial numbers, linked up to a school Gmail account and got them out to the teachers.
They were excited, and I assumed that they would take a tablet home, play with them, browse for suitable apps and generally customise the device for their students' learning needs. Being all linked to the one Gmail account, once an app is downloaded on that account, it becomes available for download on any device logged into that account. I thought meant that the teachers would share their finds for the benefit of all. Later in the day, I cruised past the previously mentioned teacher's classroom and he had his new laptops and the Nexuses out as we had envisioned. I was stoked. Kids were browsing and making notes, another was working with an SSO practicing his reading skills from a website and even one student was curled in the corner reading the preview chapter of "The Hobbit". My presumption was that the other two classrooms with these tablets would be following a similar pattern. That illusion was shattered yesterday when I walked through and found two kids using them in the common area.
"These are cool, Mr. Wegner."
"Great! What are you doing?"
Then a teacher told me that the approach was to let the kids play with the tablets for a week or so before working out what apps would be good in the classroom. I was concerned, not because I think that play and learning are opposing forces but I could see the less engaged kids seeing these as entertainment devices, time fillers and easy to subvert. I knew I had to gain back some control before the 8G drives on these things was choked with meaningless crud.
I spent last night looking through the Google Play part of the tablet Gmail account and I could see the entire list of apps that had been downloaded by students in less than a week. I counted 28 different apps with only about 3 of them having some sort of link to classroom learning. I then found out that I could monitor all connected devices from this account and determine what the list of useful apps could look like. The list of apps in the My Order & Settings section couldn't changed but it does serve as a useful history of what students will download when given fairly unrestricted access to download and use free apps. Clicking on the My Android Apps tab brings up my device list as a horizontal click and scroll bar, with the Apps Installed list underneath and then the Other Apps In My Library list. So from this view I could control what was available to each device - once I had each device upgraded to have access to the Google Play store password protected.
Today I collected all of the Nexus 7's from the three classrooms. One class had a relief teacher who was having trouble monitoring what the students were doing, so I helped her out when I came to get the tablets. One of the students asked why I was taking them, and I explained that I needed to clean up the apps. He replied, "Don't delete the games. Otherwise, what's the point of these things?"
I knew that if the teachers weren't clear about the vision, then the kids would not be too clear themselves about the purpose of the tablets and would create their own more entertainment based purposes instead. That was an error of judgement on my part, although seeing what the students did do under the circumstances was very revealing and informative. I found that while the tablets only had my app list available for download in the Play section, there was still the list of apps installed on the individual device remaining. This had to be deleted device by device - and then they were ready for some technical tweaking by the technician. Interestingly, I had 13 of the 15 devices on my desk as two weren't available as students were still using them out of the building when I cam through. I resolved to collect them later and started on the clean up, keeping my Play account open on my laptop as I worked. From those 2 devices, another eight apps (all games) were installed and appeared on my My Orders & Settings list in the space of an hour. I was waiting when one of the students returned the Nexus and so I asked if she had installed any apps during her use. She denied it but the evidence on my account said otherwise as the other Nexus didn't have the apps in question. More learning for me.
Another cool aspect of the Nexus and Google combo is the ability to track internet searches on that account. I showed the teacher spokesperson and he could immediately see who would have conducted which search based on his knowledge of their research topics. Another great way to show how digital information and movement is so trackable. I am also conducting research to re-start these tablets with a small core group of apps that can be used for positive learning purposes within the classroom. After reading Scott Elias's recent blog post about his school's iPad deployment, I am keen to get the students using a small number of apps well rather than clog up the devices with distractions.
So what have I learned (and continue to learn) from my experiences so far? Well, I can see why large scale deployments resort to locking down stuff to maintain some form of control. In the ideal world, I'd like my original vision to work where there are as few restrictions to trialling new apps as possible. Unfortunately, when you are dealing with young adolescents, temptation is very hard to resist and structure and expectations are helpful scaffolds more than restrictive hindrances. I've learned that you need to articulate your vision clearly to all of those who are involved in the deployment if you want their support and understanding. And you could say that I have definitely found that there much to learn from my mistakes. I don't think I'm done making them yet, either.
In his keynote the other week at the ITL Masterclass, Greg Gebhardt made an obvious but often overlooked point - the iPad is only just over two years old. So many of the other popular Android tablets have an even shorter timespan since introduction. But the device has made a serious impact in Australian schools and society in general. The main device of choice for delegates at that conference was the iPad and I was caught out in my session by being unfamiliar with how Tumblr functions on an iPad.
I've heard of many schools trialling and using iPads as a learning device - it seemed that at events, Apple Australia were pushing the 1 to 1 concept, a device for every student - and basically distancing themselves from the concept of shared tablet devices. But I have seen a handful of schools that are trialling the shared tablet idea - and it will be interesting to see where that leads. The fact is that not every school community can afford any form of 1 to 1 concept, and I know my school is looking more along the lines of "the right device for the right purpose" and not necessarily one device - tablet, notebook, or whatever - per student. I wonder if some of the advocates for 1 to 1 have ever been in a Category 1 or 2 school to see how financially challenging it can be meeting the various needs of the student community.
That is not to say that the students don't have access to personal technology like iPads and laptops. It certainly stands to reason that if an iPad is best as a individual's device, then the Bring Your Own Technology idea could have some legs.
We have two tablets at home. My eldest son has an iPad and my youngest has a Samsung Galaxy Tab. I like both devices and the fact that the Android device can basically play anything that the internet throws at it is a very big plus. But getting a suitable way for an eight your old to purchase a few apps through Google Play was a tricky proposition - there are no gift cards (a la iTunes) for Google, and we ended up using a prepaid Visa card to hook up to the account so he could purchase some apps. The Apple App Store is a very consumer friendly set up and is a great way to manage purchasing in the home. But that same scenario is a pain in the neck at school - Australia is yet to benefit from Apple's education volume licensing - so back up hacks are what has been recommended (unofficially, of course) to get any shared iPad scheme off the ground.
Every now and again, I wonder if I should succumb to the bug and buy a tablet. But it still feels like using an oversized iPhone to me - and I am not a fan of the Apple filtered version of YouTube on iDevices that is a pale imitation of browsing and viewing videos on a laptop or desktop on that site. But tablet prices continue to become more affordable and it will be interesting to see if the new and highly touted Microsoft Surface can make inroads into this part of the educational technology marketplace.
Being here in Australia, I didn't pay too much attention to the Vancouver riots after the NHL finals loss of their local team until I read about the role that social media played in the events of that day on Stephen Downes' OLDaily. His links got me interested, and over the last few days I've followed numerous other links and sought to make some sense of the vast array of views and counter-views that are online. So, here are some tenuous thoughts...
In an age where we are concerned about privacy and the role that closed circuit video has in our society for catching wrong doers, it is ironic that people think nothing of the potential surveillance in people's hands and pockets in the form of their smartphones. So, when things swung out of control in Vancouver, those "caught up in the moment" never considered that their actions captured and uploaded to the web might come back to bite them on the backside. One of the sites that Stephen points to is run by Captain Vancouver, who combines the actions of naming and shaming real people behind the protection of an online alias. Here, commenters sway between admiration for this new form of online accountability or the reviling of an online vigilante squad caught up in their own moment of "seeking justice". I'm still not sure where I sit because some of the actions of those participating were so moronic and lacking in any moral fibre that seeing some form of justice dished out seems to be perfectly defensible. But then the comments take their own dark turn and the Captain's intents are being hijacked by others and turned into racist, misogynist, homophobic attacks that undermine the moral high ground that the site's owner wants to be able to maintain.
In a lot of ways, the rioters who posted about their own antics on Facebook and Twitter have messed in their own nest, and are reaping the consequences in more ways than they ever could have anticipated. It is a fascinating insight into mob human behaviour. People behaved as if they were truly anonymous, unleashing their most inappropriate and hedonistic actions on property, public and private - and what I've viewed across the web, there is certainly no stereotypical rioter. In fact, most of the names and faces that crop with regularity seem to be bright, ordinary people - kids still at high school, people working for charities and university students. Did they fail to notice the array of mobile phones held high recording moments for posterity? Except posterity is now a Facebook profile, or a Twitpic link or a YouTube upload. And are the bystanders whose footage is now being used in the digital witchhunt just as guilty for standing by and being part of the rebellion? Or were they adopting the position of citizen journalists?
So the rioters had their fun, the police dispersed them eventually and the mainstream press filed their reports. But many net savvy citizens were very unhappy about the way that individuals had not only trashed their city but gleefully shared their antics for anyone in the world to see. So, the various shaming sites I mentioned before started to spring up. Some merely had the goal of posting clear pics of persons of interest asking if anyone recognising them to contact the Vancouver Police Department.
Just five days after the June 15 riot that plunged the Canadian city into three hours of chaos, police had received 3,500 e-mails that included 53 videos, 708 photographs and 1,011 hyperlinks to social media sites such as Facebook.
Now police have warned outraged residents to avoid using social media to exact vigilante justice. Authorities "are asking the public to resist the temptation to take justice into their own hands," the police said in a statement.
Others, like Captain Vancouver, decided that some meticulous research across varying forms of social media held to some personally defined standards would be the way to ensure that these everyday people were held to some form of justice. These sites weren't buying the "I was caught up in the moment" reasons offered by some identified and also felt that the court system would merely give out a "slap on the wrist" for anyone who was arrested anyway. But there is always the risk of getting the facts wrong, as the police found out.
So, maybe not quite uberveillance but another cross-pollination of mobile devices combined with social media mixed in with old fashioned mob rule produces results that spiral and viral way beyond the control of any individual whose profile can be matched. I mean, what are the odds of wearing the same outfit when stealing from a store as on your social media profile? And someone is ready to mix and match the whole concoction together in another example of internet remix interactivity.
One to one laptop programs have been around here in Australia for quite a while now. Gary Stager spoke extensively about that last year when he was in Australia, pointing out the work of David Loader who pioneered the first school notebook program at Melbourne's Methodist Ladies College back in 1990. I've visited a couple of schools who have ventured down that track - St Albans Meadows in Melbourne and Holy Family here in Adelaide - and the model seems to be the same whenever one talks about 1:1 in today's schools. Firstly, head over to the Anytime Anywhere Learning Foundation (AALF) website, plan your school's path forward using their excellent 21 Steps To 21st Century Learning and decide on a suitable affordable model of laptop to roll out.
I really enjoyed the sessions with Travis Smith late last year and took his advice of "don't rush your school community into things" advice to my site as we grapple with our own proposals for a 1 to 1 program. We are close to running a 1:1 classroom trial for the year in a key classroom to answer a number of the questions posed by our parent community. But what if the tried and true model of 1:1 laptops has already had its day?
Quite a few high schools around Adelaide have already jumped into the breech, rolling out parent funded laptops to their Year Eights. Through my contacts, I've seen some of the laptop choices (ranging from a 10 inch netbook to a Apple Macbook) and heard some of the stories. Paraphrased quotes and stories following below:
"My son was proud when his class received their laptops in the first week and he knew how to log on and get using it straightaway while some of his classmates struggled. Unfortunately, it hasn't been called upon in classes since."
"My sister had her laptop in her backpack when she went down to the beach after school with her friends and it got stolen."
So, the popular move is to use a one size fits all model. Working for a large system, I understand the thinking behind this - control, control and more control. It's seen in the way we set up wireless and networks in schools where digital certificates and complex logons manage and restrict the connected environment. This way, the school owns the laptops, can manage the software licensing, keep technical issues down to a minimum (which is lucky because most schools operate on a shoestring budget when it comes to technicians) and keep track of laptop movement via library barcodes. We can feed our filtered "safe" internet through these networks onto identical, predictable machines that equalise the connected experience.
But is this the only scenario?
I lurk on a mailing-list called Oz-teachers where the regular contributors debate topics in such an in-depth and authorative way that I feel more comfortable dipping into their conversations via my Gmail. Brett Clarke is an Oz-teachers frequenter whose observations really challenge my fairly conservative (conservative as in limited in scope, not as in right wing political leanings) world view. On a number of occasions, he has posited that 1 to 1 as a managed roll out is a concept that passed its start by date. Recently, he stated the following:
If you're at a school that didn't already catch that wave several years ago, then just skip it and move on. The kids will thank you for it and the staff won't have to learn the whole laptop thing and then learn what it means to go mobile 12 months later...
Another gem that has me wondering about what we should be doing in the primary when investing for the future:
I'll say it again - now is NOT the time to be starting a laptop/netbook programme in your school!
This is not to say schools shouldn't have some laptops - but not high ratios - just for the few situations where the tablet may not be the most convenient/appropriate alternative...
I'm also intrigued by David Truss's BYO Laptop program as a concept. I know from conversations with my students that a sizeable number of them already have a laptop of their own. I then wonder what their parents' reaction would be when the school announces a laptop program that dictates a particular model and cost. I can hear it already.
"Why can't my child just bring their laptop to school?"
There would need to be several major shifts in thinking to be able to say yes.
Firstly, our wireless network would have to change its security settings so that non-networked laptops could gain access. There would be the issue of software licensing and a well thought approach so that office software like OpenOffice or possibly GoogleDocs become ways to avoid breaching proprietary software licenses. The biggest shift would have to come from teachers who are comfortable with familiar programs, network paths and occasional use of computing technology.
There are times when I think that the students are more ready for these shifts than we are.