Archive for the 'Mobile Technology' Category

Making The Right Decisions

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.

My Tablet Deployment Thus Far …

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?”

“Angry Birds!”

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.

Tablet Fervour / Fever

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.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/56155476@N08/6660141777/

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.

Citizen-based Surveillance

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?

http://www.flickr.com/photos/tzofia/5840853460/

http://www.flickr.com/photos/tzofia/5840853460/

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.

http://www.usatoday.com/tech/news/2011-06-22-facebook-vancouver-riots_n.htm

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.

Name That Moron Screengrab

Name That Moron Screengrab

Connected Students

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.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/brownpau/5108073282/

http://www.flickr.com/photos/brownpau/5108073282/

Travis Smith – Planning and Sustainable 1-1 Program

I was fortunate enough to attend a Learning Technologies sponsored day with Travis Smith from Expanding Learning Horizons today. Interestingly, I was the only person from a primary school and I was fortunate enough to run into an old colleague and Moodle innovator, Jason Plunkett from Mount Gambier High School. I took a bunch of notes but Travis handed around a USB with his presentations, spreadsheet tools and other goodies so I won’t replicate his content here but try to capture the essence of his advice and ideas from my own perspective as an educator exploring the possibilities of a 1 to 1 program for his school.

The blurb:
Travis Smith has over 10 years experience in the classroom teaching Psychology, Geography, History and English, and managed the very successful notebook program at Frankston High School in Victoria. He lectured at Monash University for many years in the Education Faculty and has presented at many conferences worldwide on the effective use of technology in the classroom. He was Deputy Principal at Frankston High School for two years before this year becoming the National Manager of Expanding Learning Horizons. The business works with schools Australia wide to assist them to implement 1-to-1 programs and develop and run effective professional learning programs for teachers within schools.

This workshop is aimed at teams of leaders from schools who are looking to implement 1-to-1
technology programs in their schools. Part of the day will revolve around case studies of what other schools
have done in their deployment of technology to students. This program will have a focus on the educational
value of technology programs for students and give leaders a chance to discuss and plan for the many aspects
of a successful and sustainable 1-to-1 program. It will involve a combination of presentations as well as time
to work in school teams on their implementation plan.

The morning started with an introduction from DECS’s Peter Simmonds and a quick summary of where our system was in relation to the nation before Travis was introduced. His morning session was mainly focussed on the why for 1 to 1, and what it would mean for your school and your teachers. He described the use of laptops in the school environment as the biggest change in over a hundred years and the absolute need to be aware for progressive Professional Learning. Sessions after school for 90 minutes aren’t going to cut it any more and the right sort of professional learning is costly but crucial. Travis’s great quote was “It’s all too easy to think that it’s all too hard.” He also pointed out that schools were the last place in the workforce still arguing about the role of ubiquitous computing.

He talked at length about the challenges a classroom of laptop laden students would have on the teacher. There are those who will fear the loss of control but this is too important to walk away from. It is important for teachers to be comfortable in software not necessarily experts and merely view the laptop as the tool to support your good teaching and learning. When teachers talk about not having time, it is important to remove the legwork for them. Effective classroom management is still the key to making it work, (my classroom, my rules) but there are big implications for the pace of delivery. He shared a sample of work designed in OneNote by a group of English teachers that utilised the power of digital resources and the higher order part of Bloom’s taxonomy – creation.

Travis offered up a number of alternative ways that someone in a role like mine could re-think support for teachers. These could include term action research projects, curriculum planning with improved digital access and sharing success around the school in a more visible way. After a morning tea break, he talked us through “15 Mistakes You Don’t Need To Make.” This was timely advice from his experiences and covered aspects like pace of implementation, ownership of the laptops, who controls the software and laptop image, network readiness, technical and technician support, budgets, expectations for the community, student readiness and skill levels and re-thinking PD.

In the afternoon, we had time to work on our own school’s planning. This was useful as Travis supplied us with a planning tool that asked a lot of key questions around readiness, and he freely offered a lot of conversation with me on my own school’s possible directions and moves so far. All of the ground covered leaves me plenty to unpack and think through and take back to the rest of the school to work on. I certainly saw ways to improve on my effectiveness in my Coordinator role that I was unable to clearly see before today.

Tomorrow, I bring another classroom teacher with me and Travis is promising a lot of digital hands on as we look at what a successful 1 to 1 classroom looks like.

Travis's 1 to 1 implementation tool graphic.

Travis's 1 to 1 implementation tool graphic.

Do Schools Really Buy This Stuff?

Being the ICT coordinator means that I get a heap of brochures, fax printoffs and emails for this product or another lobbing in my in box. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve put a copy of the latest HDGuard solution into the recycling box. But I’m always surprised what different vendors think that schools should shell out their limited budgets on.

Today it was a publisher offering blackline master books for the teaching of “computing skills” and “inquiry learning”. I don’t even remember the company’s name.

Then there was the pdf from this mob with their “low cost” student laptop. Honestly, should schools shell out A$599 for a 7 inch screen and 128 MB internal memory machine? Heck, I paid nearly $200 less than that for an Acer Inspire One with a 10 inch screen and 250 G hard drive, and I’ve seen them cheaper than that since then.

Obviously, plenty of companies are just flat out guessing with what is actually useful in a classroom, or they see us as the biggest bunch of suckers going around. I suppose the BER rorting just confirms to many in the business world that schools are just  fair game for any sort of financial exploitation.

An Overview Of The Current State Of Play In The EdTech World

It feels like ages since I’ve blogged and even longer since I’ve blogged anything worthwhile. Of course, the longer I leave writing here, the more the self doubt sets in and makes me wonder if I have anything worthy of pushing out to say. So, the counteractive cure to that is put up a grandiose title and have a bit of at length pontification about the current state of play in the edtech world.

I’m sick of Windows’ complete vulnerability to trojans, worms and other nasties especially when I’m trying to get mid year reports written on my school XP laptop. Files don’t play nice across platforms so doing it all on my favourite MacBook Pro wasn’t really an option. Interestingly, I can plug in a USB flashdrive into the Mac and see all these weirdly named folders (Kalba, Doda, Gravity etc.) that I just know shouldn’t be there but the Mac won’t let me delete them. Plug it back into the XP laptop and they become invisible but the crazy stuff happens then. I have found that I can plug in, see and delete these nasties in my son’s Ubuntu netbook. Another win for Open Source, I suppose.

I got another invitation in my inbox to be on one of those Top 100 Edublogs lists that seem to be all the rage. What disinterests me is how many policy, corporate and cause based blogs keep making those lists. I’m only interested in reading edubloggers who write for themselves, that are identifiable individuals with clear personalities and quirks – now that’s a list I’d be honoured to be on. I find it hard to take sites that call themselves onlinedegrees or onlinembas seriously, especially when the internet is a great conduit for learners who don’t want to follow a traditional credentialling process. Give me an empassioned teacher breaking free of the confines of their classroom over some politically driven ISTE-style bandwagon hopper. Jose sums it up better than I can anyway.

While I’ve been looking at how one might go about setting up, fund and implementing a 1:1 laptop program, David Truss has introduced a new concept that really resonates – the BYO laptop program. Not sure how it would fly in Australian government schools with the bureaucratic need to cover liability but it is worth considering. And I’m beginning to warm to the idea of iPads in the classroom, especially in the younger years.

Meh.. not really much to say. But it’s a start. I’ll see what gets my brain churning next.

Netbooking In The Regular Classroom

We bought our eldest son a netbook to use at school. His primary school is not likely to move to anything resembubuntu1ling a 1:1 laptop program before he’s in high school and he has enough learning issues to warrant limiting his use of pen and pencil. He has a very supportive teacher who is prepared to support us in adding this into the mix of a school with pretty traditional classrooms. But I’m hoping that having a digital tool at his disposal will help to boost his productivity in the classroom, enable him access to tools to help offset some of his learning difficulties and keep his learning on track.

My son loves computers and is fascinated with operating systems and sub-folders but tends to see a computer as a pastime, an outlet for fun rather than a focussed tool for achieving things. I thought that going with the Windows 7 default OS that came with the Acer Inspire netbook that we picked for A$450 would be too big a distraction in the classroom so I wiped that off and installed Ubuntu Netbook Remix instead. There is no wireless access in his classroom so the software options all had to reside on his hard drive  and be easy to navigate. The Netbook Remix does that very well.

If you are not familiar with Ubuntu (as I wasn’t prior to playing around with it during this summer) then it takes a little getting used to.  But it so simple and logical – Aaron picked it up very easily and intuitively.

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So, he has a clean, very fast running netbook that will give him word processing, an excellent file system for his documents, a nifty webcam that can take pics and video and I can add any number of educational programs (like Tux Paint, Tux Type, Marble, View Your Mind) from the open source Ubuntu community. It works well on wireless at home and because Netbook Remix was developed with the screen of a netbook in mind, you don’t get the minitiaturisation effect we get on our netbooks at school running an XP desktop. I’m hoping that in time, this helps Aaron in his classroom endeavours and the netbook can become a digital repository of his learning.

The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same

This is now the third week of the school year. The class is settling, I’m putting one foot after the other in my share of the team teaching duties and there seems to be a lengthy stream of things to GET DONE as the year slips out of first gear and starts to become more structured and more routined. You know, class newsletter, check. Class photos up, check. Homework Grid ready, check. Parent Acquaintance Interviews organised, check.

You get the picture.

I’m trying to put my finger on whether this year feels different yet. It feels normal enough but in my visits around the classrooms when previewing our new ICT Use Agreements, the biggest buzz was around the idea of having permission from home to bring mobile phones, portable gaming devices and digital cameras to school. Nearly 90% of my class have a mobile but the big market share device around the school is definitely the Nintendo DS or DSi. It doesn’t matter which classroom I walked into – kids from five to twelve owned these pieces of personal technology en masse.

Very interesting. In the primary school setting, maybe more of a potential gamechanger than an iPad?

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