Archive for the 'Learning' Category

Are PISA Results An Accurate Measure Of The Quality Of Education Anywhere?

Late last year, my principal passed along a document transcript of a keynote delivered by Dr Alan Reid from UniSA titled “Translating what? How PISA distorts policy, research and practice in education“. I’ve looked for a copy online but can’t seem to find one to link to so I am uploading the copy from my email inbox to share his analysis to a broader audience. I know that we used this transcript as a basis for a powerful dialogue around the proper use of data for learning in our leadership team, but the messages he delivers could translate well to any nation where the results from PISA are being used to publicly rate and rank how their students are doing. This is not the first time he has questioned the media’s and government’s over reliance on the rankings and data sets that these international tests provide.

Click on the link – Alan Reid keynote CredNovember14 – to download.

It seems that PISA can provoke warning signs of decline in any part of the world, but many media outlets here down under are quick to give these tests a very high level of credibility. A quick sample via Google shows this:

Maths results a concern in PISA schools study
New PISA results show education decline – it’s time to stop the slide
OECD report finds Australian students falling behind

And interestingly, within that last article was this observation from Dr Ken Boston:

Gonski review panellist and former director-general of NSW education Ken Boston said Australia should compare itself to Canada in OECD comparisons – which performed significantly higher than Australia in maths and reading.

Meanwhile, in Canada, who Australia should be seeking to emulate, PISA results are producing a similar reaction:

Canada’s students slipping in math and science, OECD finds

And this article from the Vancouver Sun, has this gem of an observation which perhaps sums up a lot of the hysteria worldwide regarding PISA:

The only people who really revel in the PISA announcement of where Canada sits in the world rankings are politicians, business leaders and university academics well positioned to take credit for successes in public education and blame those lazy overpaid teachers for any drop in the PISA rankings.

You could substitute any number of countries in Canada’s (or Australia’s) place and the statement would feel true to many educators who find the reality of their classroom to be quite detached from the results and how they are interpreted for the public’s benefit.

Anyway, have a read of Dr Reid’s keynote and let me know what you think.

The Corporate Helping Hand

Technology can be a major driver of innovation within any school setting. So, it makes sense that the corporations that develop and sell the devices, infrastructure and software that are part of this picture would want to be publicly visible as a key factor for positive change. A recent example of this came my way via Tim Holt who reflected on a partnership between Science Leadership Academy, an acknowledged innovative school in the US, and Dell who are funding Chromebooks and other benefits for the school. Now, this is a great coup for the school involved and is a win/win PR wise for both the school and the tech corporation who are very publicly providing this innovative support. But as Tim points out, “this sweetheart deal he is getting from Dell is NOTHING like what every other school will get“. There is a lot more to this story which you can follow through on the comments on Tim’s blog but I am interested in the point where the corporate helping hand starts to feel more like a forceful push in the back.

Corporations that have a stake in the education pie all want to be seen as the answer to innovation, or in many cases, just keeping pace. Schools are always under the pump when it comes to funding. Every Google Educator, Apple Distinguished Educator, Microsoft Innovative Educator or Intel Teach facilitator is the equivalent of me wearing my favourite Rip Curl tee-shirt out in public – a form of advertising. There is somewhat of an insinuation that those educators who sport these fancy titles, not earned from a university course or form of scholarship but from an application form or a weekend of workshopping, are somehow better or more qualified at being better educators than everyone else. (Disclosure: I have an Intel Teach course diploma somewhere in my cupboard and I can tell you that it has made little to no difference to my capacity as an educator.)

Late last term I went to a day event that was the launch of a partnership between my own education department (DECD) and Microsoft. I heard about it via a Community of Practice group that my school is involved in around Innovative Learning Environments, and we knew that a couple of schools within our group had been involved in the Microsoft Innovative Schools program so a colleague and I went along to see what this partnership could be offering or mean to the system as a whole. (Another disclosure: I have been involved in the Microsoft Innovative Schools program too, at the school I worked at prior to WGS, and benefitted from their sponsored interstate trips.) The message is one of the corporation is here to give back to you, the schools, here’s what we can offer you, here’s a sample of the sort of Professional Learning on offer. Which is great but being the sort of person I am, I tend to notice the subtle sub-messages, real or imagined, throughout the day that still bug me.

An example of when I feel the corporate heavy hand in the middle of my back – when a graphic of devices is shown to the audience, starting with the least powerful Smartphone then tablets then laptops and finally, the tablet PC as the ultimate learning machine. Windows machines dominate the graphic (as you would expect at a Microsoft funded day) and the sole token outsider in the graphic is an iPad just to the right of the Smartphone and well left of the inferred-superior Microsoft Surface. The message is clear about what constitutes an innovative learning device. We are also presented with a definitive list of 21st Century Learning skills – despite the fact that a quick search will provide many alternatives – but any professional learning from this partnership won’t be referencing any of the alternatives. And just in case, you think I am just being anti-MS, I think that Apple’s coining of the phrase “Challenge Based Learning” is just as blatant a grab for the pedagogical truth.

When I make decisions about the right tools for my students, I want that decision to be free of that feeling in the middle of my back. Schools should be free to decide that at a local level, and generally are, but partnerships that send heavy handed messages curb our freedom to help our students with learning and lessen world views instead of widening them.

I Can Appreciate What That Stephen Covey Guy Was On About Now

I’ve now been in my Assistant Principal role for just over two years now. It is a complex position in a complex school but I have enjoyed the challenge and change of responsibilities. There are several different components to the job and a lot of the time, it really feels like they are competing against each other for priority ranking in my working day. I think educators everywhere complain about not having time to get everything done but in a leadership role, it really feels magnified. And there have been times where the contending demands have reached a what-seems-to-me overwhelming level. When that happens, the telltale signs are (in Stephen Covey terms) when the urgent starts to take priority over the important at almost every turn. This also tends to sneak up on me until I realise that things are out of sync.

I had a timely conversation with my principal on Friday which helped me to step back from my role and see it all from a distance. This is really helpful in terms of seeing the competing demands as separate entities and how they can all assume urgency disguised as importance. Let me pick it apart here – for no one’s benefit but my own. This post is a way of sorting out some of the entangled bits and making some conscious decisions about the varying tasks.

For most of my work life, I have been a classroom teacher. I believe I was reasonably good at that, and using technology was something that I picked up relatively easily and used a way of opening up learning possibilities for my students. The initiative and innovation that I showed from the mid-nineties onwards earned me the chance to become a Coordinator for over eight years, but even in taking that first step on the rung of official leadership, most of my work time was based in the classroom. Being a classroom teacher has a certain workflow predictability to it. The week is timetabled, the curriculum is there to be implemented, planning is done in the time away from the students and while there is no doubt that there is a lot that a modern teacher must juggle and achieve, the deadlines and priorities have always felt clear.

There is a lot more autonomy in my current position. I have a administrative component that involves the construction and management of rosters. This includes Yard Duties, Non Instructional Time and Traffic Monitors for aspects of school life that runs all year round. I also manage smaller events like school photos and swimming and aquatics. I am responsible for student assessment data management and for running staff meeting PD sessions across the year on school priorities. When a teacher goes on leave, it is me who has to swing the changes to cover the absence. When teachers miss deadlines to submit student assessment results, it is me that has to follow up to remind them of their professional responsibilities. This is not a complaint but merely a recognition that smaller tasks fan out from the main ones and they all require time and attention in order for things to run smoothly. That seems to be one of the main goals of administration – efficiency. But it should not be confused for leadership.

I am also a line manager for a building of teachers. I meet with them around their professional development, read and proof their reports and act as first base for issues within their classrooms. This can fold over into aspects of behaviour management or pedagogical advice and guidance. Without saying much more, this year has been a difficult year for teachers under my line management. Issues arising from this has also contributed a great deal to my role distortion and need for re-prioritising. Make no mistake, it is hugely important to spend time in this area and in a complex site like mine, I am unavoidably called away from the other parts of my job regularly.

I am also involved in the management of what my principal titled “e-tech”. This involves the strategic purchases of technology equipment, the liaising with our tech support about issue prioritization and school goals, and the management of an important budget. There is a danger in spending too much time in this area as staff members can start to view me as part of the tech support team, there to help fix things or change password or to top up accounts.

I quite enjoy the parts of my job that I have mentioned so far. But to be honest, they are not the reason I am in this role. They are part of the role but we do have other leadership at my school that could take on these parts as well as me. Of course, the other leaders at my school are busy grappling with their own varying competing job pieces so this is just my share of what needs to be done.

But it is the innovative practice and change that I have the unique skill set for. It is the area where I am expected to lead out, but the area where I feel like things get squeezed out at the expense of the other. It is where my principal would like to see me involved in “coaching”. I do this stuff but I feel like it could be delivered and organised a lot better. The goal is help influence staff to make changes in their classroom practice and take advantage of technology to improve learning outcomes for their students. This is the important stuff – so use of projects, testbed classrooms and other innovations are things I need to consciously program time and energy for.

Revisiting my weekly timetable, my ongoing tasks and adjusting priorities needs to happen from time to time. Like a garden, there are times to prune some overgrowth back in order to give some underdeveloped aspects of my job an opportunity to flourish.

Put The Spoon Away

True story.

Names not used and context changed to protect those who need protection.

Leader in a school sends out email to primary school staff informing them about the new Australian Professional Standards for Teachers, and includes a link to the website. Receives an email back from staff member complaining that the link doesn’t work and could the correct one be emailed back out.

When will some teachers give up the expectation to be spoon fed everything? It literally takes less than a minute to type in “aitsl teacher standards” into Google, click on the first link and navigate the website to find what was required. It would even have taken less time than the typing of the reply email to point out the mis-leading link.

Still a lot of work to do in order to re-define professional learning, and for teachers to activate the desire to leverage technology for self learning.

Feed me by ~ GromekTwist

What Your Classroom Says About You, The Educator

Walking into a vacant classroom and having a look around (even without the students being there) can tell you a lot about the sort of learning that goes on in there. How the furniture is laid out, the posters and work samples on the wall, the artifacts and resources available all tell a story of what is valued and what is possible for the students assigned to that classroom.

I’m picturing a couple of classrooms (fictional but typical of some that I have seen)  in my head as I type. I’m not going to identify when, where or who – but one I’m thinking of had class desks in a haphazard array, with very little displays of anything on the walls. The teacher’s desk takes up a sizable portion of the corner of the room and is a dumping ground with mounds of worksheets, student workbooks and newsletters threatening to slew off onto the floor. The laptop trolley is left open with laptops stuck in on varying angles and power chargers dangling unattached. The philosophy espoused by the teacher is of student choice but in a very unstructured way – the kids determine the seating arrangements but personalisation is catered using a worksheet driven approach. There is freedom but very little responsibility. There is choice but no structure. Nothing on the walls indicate that nothing is important enough to showcase – or that the teacher doesn’t want to find the time to get any displays happening. Maybe, this teacher clocks out as soon as possible when the students leave so there is minimal time left to try and create an inviting environment. What sort of learning is possible in this space?

The next classroom has sections divided off for specific purposes. There aren’t designated seats for specific students to sit at but a central spot within the classroom is set aside for whole class instruction or for students to sprawl out for reading or doing partner activities. The room has different furniture options for the students to use – some low seats, cushions in a corner, some higher stools at a higher table. Your eyes are drawn to the various areas and there doesn’t seem to be a teacher’s desk either. This speaks to a different commitment to enabling student learning – it is apparent that not all children can be involved in the same activity as a whole class easily.

We had Lisa Burman speak to our staff on Thursday in our lead up to the start of the school year. Her focus in the morning session was on the strategic design of learning environments and she shared examples of classrooms where the teacher had re-designed the layout to reflect a changed approach to pedagogy. It certainly provoked a flurry of activity in the afternoon when teachers headed to set up their classrooms for the start of the 2013 school year. People were keen to “de-clutter” and “re-design their learning spaces” which meant that her message about the learning space being an accurate picture of a teacher’s approach to learning hit home. Some teachers who had already been strategically thinking in this way and had started their journey of re-examining what their learning space should be were visited by those who hadn’t thought too deeply about these things before. Others who looked at a space and only saw one picture of how the classroom could look asked others for their opinion and vision to break free of their own entrenched comfortable habits. Hopefully, no one was misguided enough to believe that the simple re-design of a classroom meant that their teaching practice would be transformed. But thinking consciously about this is an important step towards examining one’s own teaching practice.

I thought back to some of the teaching spaces I have inhabited over my career. I’ve taught in transportables, open space units, traditional single classrooms, a former library complete with an upstairs annexe and a brand new BER “21st century learning” building at my previous school. However, it is what is done within those classrooms that is most important – you will find more about that in an old blog post of mine from 2006 titled Classrooms. However, I think that when you know what learning should look like for your learners, then the learning space design will be shaped in the best way to make that happen.

My 2010 / 11 BER classroom being built.

 

MinecraftEDU Observations – FWIW

I’ve been running some Friday afternoon sessions with a small group of middle primary students on our relatively new MinecraftEDU server. I’m running this as part of a small research project to explore what links to learning are possible and useful using Minecraft as the forum. I know that Minecraft can be a successful vehicle for learning – my son shows me this with Massively Minecraft, and there are a multitude of Dean Groom blog posts to cement the point home. I also read another informative blog MinecraftEdu Elfie that share first hand experiences of using this tool within the classroom. I’ve also been out to a nearby local primary school where a teacher, David Tucker is doing fabulous things with students from a wide range of cultures and social backgrounds. So, I know that the potential is there – but my school’s question is definitely along the lines of – “What could this mean for our kids?”

So, the group of students is my test bed for some action research on a weekly basis, which is a bit infrequent for my liking. But I thinking that a secondary goal is to create some awareness and teacher buy-in, so a slow build up is OK with me for the moment. My other issue is that I’m not a big Minecraft fan personally, lacking motivation and patience to get much past creating a very basic house and mastering flying around the world. So, I recruited real expertise to run the teacher function of the MinecraftEDU set up in the form of a very knowledgeable Year Six student who had the right blend of responsibility, ability to listen to layman style goals (from my mouth) and willingness to improvise for the benefit of a group of younger students. This student has been awesome, bringing a steady hand to the controls within the teacher interface, and he has been constantly offering ideas to make each session a worthwhile experience. He has suggested treasure hunts, separate zones for specific activities and even worked on griefer-management strategies. In his classroom, he’s just another quiet kid but in my sessions, he has grown in confidence to display real leadership and decision making skills – a real commander-in-chief, allowing me to take on a more observational role and see what kids will actually do in the Minecraft environment.

David Tucker’s classroom had highly developed concepts where he had students working in pairs researching and building castles, while EduElfie has his students building models of DNA in the Science classroom. But I decided to start with a much blanker slate. Basically, I wanted a blank “world” where the invited student researchers would be free to create their own choices of buildings etc. I wanted to see what learning naturally evolved without too much teacher intervention – could the kids be self directed learners within MinecraftEDU. I liked the idea of a “teacher” moderator role and found the ideal candidate in the before mentioned student who has explored the meta-controls to a much greater depth than I could. I certainly didn’t want anything being held up by my lack of knowledge. So, the kids came, logged on and I logged in as well as a casual observer to see what would unfold.

One interesting thing that I noted early on was that the students all started building structures in close proximity to each other. In a world where no one was restricted by borders, everyone clustered together within elbowing distance of each other building structures that were so close to each other that I could barely fly between them without colliding with a wall (that could also be my lousy mouse control within Minecraft). And some of the social and play problems that plague our students out in the yard started to replicate themselves in Minecraft – instead of arguments and interference in others’ games, we had “griefing” issues and lava pouring out of walls. So social skills and play skills are another potential application for the MinecraftEDU environment.

I’ve seen some great sharing and collaboration between the students over the term. Students have paired up in their building ventures, some have sought help and expertise from the older moderators to improve their tool sets and crafting abilities. Quiet students have come out of their shell to be quite animated in a liberating display of self-consciousness loss, and for a number of our ESL students, using the common language of English to describe quite complex processes to others has led to improvements in their oral abilities.

Another important thing to note has been the difference between the two modes of “Survival” and “Creative”. With my students, Survival brings out a tense, almost agitated atmosphere where decisions have to be made quickly and instinctively. Voices are high, the pace is frantic and it seems to be every player for him or herself. A switch to creative mode changes the mood significantly. Voices are calmer, more interactive and the deeper thinking and creative side of students has enough time and space to make an impact. Some kids enjoy the Survival mode as it is most game like, and aligns more with the experience they would have on a console game but there are some who find this mode to be too intense and something they don’t like. From a learning point of view, Creative seems to hold the most potential for our students.

From this research group, I am thinking that I now need a volunteer classroom for 2013. A place where this tool can help engage learners to meet some of the capabilities and achievement standards of our new Australian Curriculum. Time to scout out that teacher.

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.

#DLDA

This week is a bit of an overload on conference /professional learning events for me. On Monday, it was a whole day event with Dylan William, the Assessment for Learning guru along with the rest of my Woodville Gardens School colleagues. That was pretty good and I have some notes and quotes stored on my laptop.

“Technology is a great servant but a terrible master.” Dylan William during his session.

Today I went to an event titled Designing Learning in the Digital Age (twitter hashtag #DLDA) featuring Dr Gerry White as the opening keynote and sessions from Michael Coghlan, Alison Miller and Mike Seyfang. I went along because in my role as a Learning Technologies leader, I wanted to hear from and interact with other Australian elearning leaders and thinkers to help distill and define my own thinking about the directions I intend to push for at my school. It was an excellent day – and it brings home to me that we have local elearning expertise of the highest quality to interact and connect with. Why many educators feel that they are only really getting on board with networked learning if they can attend face to face sessions with an imported expert is a mystery for me. For me, Gerry’s keynote was a fascinating and informative meander through the online landscape, tying new trends with snippets from his research background. At times, he was blunt and passionate, but I think I have a much deeper appreciation for what he contributed to Australian elearning in his time as head of educationau, and the contributions he still continues to make. If you have a spare 90 minutes, it is well worth checking out the recording – http://t.co/YzPzP7w6.

“… technology is also about how people communicate and collaborate. It is also about the relationships between people.” Gerry White today.

As is usually the case with a day like this where a stack of ICT related topics are explored, there is heaps to consider, ponder and think through. I wrote some notes along the way, I’m re-listening to the opening keynote as I type – and I think I’ll pick out some of the ideas to interrogate in a few future blog posts.

Tomorrow, my boss, Frank and I present at an ILE (Innovative Learning Environments) conference that features Dylan William again, about the research project that we’ve started looking at learning using digital gaming. A few things from today will be resonating in my brain as I explain our project to other interested educators.

A screengrab from Gerry’s talk that highlights a great quote.

 

 

Twitter Is The Low Hanging Fruit Of Networked Learning

I’ve just finished reading a blog post by Dean Shareski on being a more regular blogger. Knowing Dean a little bit, I actually thought it may have been about fibre and looking after your bowel. But a section of the post resonated with a gnawing disconnect that I’ve been experiencing with Twitter as forum for connection.

For others I fear twitter got in the way and now instead of meal sized portions of learning, all we’re getting is table scraps and candy.

For me, Twitter is a low hanging fruit for online thinking and learning. I cringe inwardly a little when someone pronounces Twitter as the best PD they’ve ever had. I wonder how it is that they have had such a barren run throughout their career for this to be true. Maybe because I’m not in with any particular social group but I mainly see people pointing to links of stuff that someone else created, sharing in jokes (which are out jokes to me), fawning over big name edublogger types, shout outs and #hashtag mania. To paraphrase Jerry Seinfeld, not that there’s anything wrong with all of that, but it is a far cry from sitting down over a blog post and putting your own words, thoughts and ideas out there using as many characters as you want to get the job done. I can respect any one who is prepared to do that because it does seem that some of the more vocal Twitter fans on my twitterstream are reluctant to be bloggers. Deep down, writing in depth is a commitment and a challenge that they shy away from and espousing Twitter as the premier networked learning outlet (often referred to as their PLN) looks like a diversion away from that scenario.

Here in Adelaide at a number of departmental workshops and conferences, organisers announce that the event will “be on Twitter” and educators who don’t normally engage with social media (apart from Facebook but that’s not for learning, now is it?) sign up for the day and have a go at “tweeting”. These accounts are then abandoned as they all return back to their day jobs and bursting email inboxes. And I can’t think of any pearls of wisdom from any of these events that have benefitted my learning or triggered further thinking.

But blogging is different for me. I can recall various blog posts that have turned on the virtual light bulb for me with ideas that couldn’t possibly be contained within 140 characters. From Christian Long’s Future of Learning Manifesto to Leigh Blackall’s Teaching Is Dead to Artichoke’s Calls for Gendered Group Think about Web2.0 and Claudia Ceraso’s Some thoughts on identity -particularly mine – just to name a near-handful. These posts opened up my mind to new persectives, made me reconsider what I was doing in terms of learning for myself and the staff and students with whom I work, and inspired me to strive to write for insightful and challenging purposes. I can’t do any of that in a Tweet.

About all I can manage to do in a Tweet is get people offside. My attempts at conferences to be provocative have been interpreted by others as sounding snarky and negative.

So, some people can feast reasonably well from the ground level branches of networked learning or wait for those who take the time and effort to climb that metaphorical tree of learning to drop them down a tasty morsel or two – or they can plant their own tree, watch it grow and then climb up high to where the most nutritious fruit is and trade them with others who’ve planted their virtual learning tree nearby.

OK, I’ll stop now. The metaphor is starting to get a bit stretched and thin now.

Like my efforts on Twitter.

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