The Return of the Format Wars

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BETA vs VHS. BETA had the better quality video, but VHS won and ruled the roost forever. Or at least that’s how the story goes. One ring to rule them all.

Which reminds me of the Windows Vs Apple computer days; and as Apple looked like going from being THE educational computer corporation to fading away, the growth of the Windows laptops. This is well before iPhones came along, and the educational push for ‘standardisation’, for ‘ease of use’ (whose use?) and for ‘consistency’.

I lived that, including teaching in schools which recognised the ‘personal’ in personal computer, but insisted on rolling out one-size-fits-all Windows PCs, typically Toshibas to all the students from Year 7 to Year 12 whatever their differences. High maintenance tools for the masses and, if you were good, you could put your own sticker on the back.

So, I’ve been pleased to see in recent years, more nuanced approaches to computers in schools, more subtlety, more variation and, especially with the growth of mobile, the responses of companies like Microsoft and Google of bringing their tools to a wide variety of platforms, cross-platform, VHS AND Beta. Microsoft’s software like Microsoft OneNote, Teams and Office 365 offers unprecedented collaborative power from your phone to your desktop. These tools are platform agnostic, hardware agnostic.

Since then, we haven’t seen as much of the corporation wars on hardware: Microsoft touted the drawing and handwriting of the Surface Pros, Chrome pushed the login and go of the Chromebook and Apple pushed the ‘industry standard’ for the creative arts of the MacBooks. My own students, in this border-less world, have tended to choose Macs, maybe because of the phone effect, or fashion, or because they seem simpler. But, there are some ACERs and HPs thrown in, though I’ve yet to see a Chromebook in the ‘wild’ of my classroom.

Interesting then, to see this latest foray from Microsoft, going back to the old days in this ‘case study’ of *Lowanna College* which fond that BYOD ‘can compromise, rather than support, classroom learning.’

‘BYOD programs they felt introduced too much complexity and fragmentation; if a teacher was to ask a student to create a presentation on their computers using PowerPoint, everything ground to a halt because only some had a device, only some had PowerPoint.

The circuit breaker is Lowanna’s new IT strategy which comes into play early next year which will see all Year 7s use the school recommended device which has both touch screen and digital inking capability along with access to school recommended software including Office 365.

Before settling on the Acer B118 device Lowanna surveyed teachers about how they would like to use technology to enhance learning and also gave deep consideration to the levels of support and insurance for the devices, to minimise any learning interruption should a device be damaged or lost.’

So, we come full circle, or at least we return to the old play that the adults know what’s best, that complexity is bad and that we can’t have ‘everything grinding to a halt’ because of a lack of PowerPoint. If we get the hardware right, it seems to assert, everything else will fall into place. That hasn’t been my experience.

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On Blogging in the age of Facebook

This morning I saw that Judy O’Connell, the author of Hey Jude, one of the education-related blogs I’ve been following for years, was taking a break for leave this year and wouldn’t be updating the blog for a while.

In a short post Judy reflected briefly on the changes in the digital landscape since she’d begun her blog and that nowadays opportunities for reflection and interaction online are so much more various.

She wrote: ‘Rather surprisingly to me, I have had this blog since 2006, when writing a web journal was new, and amazingly clunky. But there was a real desire for educators to learn about and become familiar with working, writing, thinking, sharing and in general ‘being online’. Since then of course we have traversed many platforms, virtual and digital, but some foundational activities remain the same.’

I agree, and it made me reflect a little on my own blog, which I’ve turned to less often over the last two years. I think that’s partly because my role has changed: from learning and teaching focused in curriculum, to Deputy Principal with a broader set of objectives and responsibilities and Acting Principal last term last year, with an even broader agenda.

Over the summer break I looked at my blogs (I have several: one reflecting about my creative writing and a family history site) and deleted a couple of early ones that were no longer active at all. My first ever was called ‘Stuff from Warrick’ and I posted pictures and articles I thought were worth re-sharing. That’s gone!

During this process I thought about whether I should keep this blog going. After all, I follow lots of educators on Twitter, and am semi-active in that space. I could just reflect in that arena?

But I decided to keep this going. One reason, as Judy says in her post, there’s an archive of my thinking and reflecting on learning and teaching here and that’s worth something, even if only for me. And, secondly, I think there is still worth in the slightly longer-form writing of a blog beyond the (now slightly extended) limitations of the twittersphere. So, perhaps it’s the warm after-glow of a summer vacation (see pic) about to end, but I intend to revisit this space more often over the next little bit.

The Second Coming of Microsoft

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If you’d told me ten years ago that I’d be excited about next year’s teaching with a bunch of Microsoft tools, I’d have told you were crazy.

At that stage Microsoft was on the skids: bloated old-fashioned desktop programs and slow to the internet. The software suite they had made their name on (aka Office) looked dated and oh so 20th Century. Worse, their cash-cow, Windoze, was a laughing stock just at the time when everyone was looking elsewhere for inspiration. With a resurgent Apple and the juggernaut that is Google, the end looked inevitable.

Cut to 2018 and things have shifted. Apple still makes the most beautiful shiny things but its software is hopeless (does iCloud even work?) A lot of teachers like some of the Google tools, and the Chromebooks have taken off, especially in the United States, but I think that might be driven by security conscious administrators with the bottom line in mind; I mean, have you ever used a Chromebook for anything substantial?

Re-enter Microsoft. Turned around and all internetted-up. The decision to make their programs ubiquitous (ie. tone down the reliance on a old desktop operating system) has not only seen the old standards re-vitalised as IOS apps, but also seen a growth in tools like OneNote, Sway, Teams, Planner, Forms, Stream that all play nicely within what feels like a mature and secure environment. Just as good, the pricing models, and the storage options, are attractive and well targeted to schools.

Not to mention OneNote Class Notebooks, which I’ve mentioned many times before. One of the best note-taking tools has morphed into the best technology based teaching tool I’ve seen.

So, I’m excited about 2019. We’ve rolled out Office 365 to students and staff and we’ve got an IT team who not only get it, but know how to make it work. We’ve already run some sessions that cunningly required using tools like Forms, and I’m planning to run a series of workshops later this year where teachers will choose from a range of possible professional learning opportunities.

The best thing? I’m hopeful we’re going to have a bunch of keen teachers equipped with some of the best learning tools yet, just raring to go. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens. Who’d have thought?

Ed-Tech in the age of Facebook

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I’ve never had a Facebook account and I’m pleased about that.

I’m certainly not anti-tech. I was an early advocate for the internet, started blogging pretty much as soon as it was possible, built web-sites, built digital resources, helped establish online communities and took up tools like OneNote, with gusto. In fact, the raison d’être of this blog has been about the effective implementation of technology in learning.

But, I’ve had some second and third thoughts recently about the rise and rise of big-tech, in terms of the social manipulation we’ve seen bear fruit in data mining and election manipulation, not to mention the more personal but just as devastating bullying and manipulation that I see occurring daily on a micro-level between students.

And, I’ve seen more flaws in the glass than I would have expected and, moving from a school environment where technology flows like water, to a more typical, and more challenged, technology environment where I’ve been forced to reflect on what that looks and feels like for most teachers and students most of the time. Things don’t always work and teachers are swamped by workloads and increasing levels of accountability, risk-management and administrative tasks. I’m not surprised some stop trying.

And there’s some problems with the model too. We are an iPad school for the Years 7–9 students and BYOD after that. Most students ditch their iPad and bring a MacBook Air or a PC after that. A significant minority write in exercise books with pens.

I’ve blogged before about iPads in learning and the tension between having the Cambridge, Oxford or Pearson text book on the iPad, turning it into a glorified textbook, and the students needing to write in exercise books with pens. Split screen doesn’t work for this. I don’t think that it would be any better with a Chromebook. So, there’s always been something awkward about the device/s for subjects where the textbook is paramount.

In my subject, Literature, where students normally have a hard copy of a novel or play, the device works better, and I’ve had success in the past, and this year, in getting students to see the value of OneNote, which is pleasing.

However, the revelations about Facebook’s use of private data concerns me, as does the same for the Google suite of tools. A while ago I argued strongly for a move to an educational version of Gmail for our school; I’m not sure I’d make that case now. If you’re using Google Apps for free (or Facebook for free), the model is that your data is monetised, you are the product, as Tim Cook pointed out again recently. I wouldn’t have predicted, five years ago, that I’d be arguing for Apple or Microsoft (which looked tired and corporate) ahead of the ubiquitous Google.

Similarly, I’ve resisted calls to ban and block phones and devices to stop cyber-bullying. Bullying is bullying I argued, focus on the behaviour, not the mode. But, there’s no doubt that putting sophisticated communication tools, and social media accounts, in the hands of thirteen year olds is a recipe for enabling bullying and exclusion way beyond the playground at lunchtime.

There is not much push for Facebook in learning (thankfully) but our school uses its Facebook account to communicate with parents much more energetically than our own intranet, and groups of students, including my own class, set up their own learning networks on Facebook. What does that model? And who benefits from the students, and the school community locked into a Facebook model of news and communication? Not only are big-tech corporates poor at monitoring and protecting data and privacy, in many cases their entire business model is based on the reverse; selling that data to advertisers and beyond.

It’s a challenge for our times, the #deletefacebook hashtag has resonance in schools too, and what we exemplify and model. I had thought that the days of RSS and building our own web sites was behind us. Maybe not. Certainly, the old English Expression skills of critical thinking and high levels of literacy, are more important than ever.

One thing is clear. While we may have thought of hopefully, in the beginning of the Internet, that this was liberating, connecting and democratising, has turned, as big-tech companies have become bigger than government, un-elected and un-accountable, into something divisive and anti-democratic. What do we do about that?

My Must Have Mac Apps for 2017

Acknowledgements to the list-makers, whose work I enjoy so much. The structure of this list based on John Vorhees work for Mac Stories

This year I’ve dug myself deeper and deeper into the Apple universe, a Mac and a Mac Mini and even using a MacBook Pro for work (not the sturdy Windows 10 workhorse) coupled with an iPad, iPhone and now even an iWatch. It hasn’t been without problems. iCloud syncing and security is a bit of a disaster, but yes, I’m in.

So, I’m always looking for apps that work as seamlessly as possible between the Mac and the IOS version, using some sort of cloud application in the background and all of that is getting better. Most of the time now I can rely on the thing to be backed up, for the version I open on the iPad really to be the version I was working on last night on the Mac.

I’ve mostly used Vorhee’s categories for my app list, except I deleted his podcast and communications categories. I’ve kept these:

  • Writing
  • Reading and research
  • Images and Video
  • Utilities
  • Task management and planning

Writing

iA Writer

For the last couple of years I’ve been using a text editor called Ulysses but then it went to a ridiculous subscription model and I moved to iA Writer (you can read about that move here) I won’t repeat my earlier blog post on why iA Writer works for me, but you can read that post yourself here Enough to say, that iA Writer does the distraction free thing really well, for a fair price. And, yeah, I wrote this on iA Writer and just ‘shared’ into WordPress.

iA Writer
iA Writer

OneNote

My work in a school is dominated by Microsoft: the Office suite, Outlook, Word, PowerPoint. Of the MS world, OneNote stands out as an organising and note-taking tool for me, and with OneNote Classroom Notebooks, it’s a pretty potent teaching tool as well with increasing power that’s been in the Windows version, coming to the Mac as well.

OneNote
OneNote

Scrivener

I sometimes feel that I should like Scrivener more than I actually do. I do like it, especially for longer-form writing, and especially for output to ePub or a range of other formats. It got a pretty big upgrade this year and looks better than ever; it’s just that, writing poetry a lot, I’m just as happy working in iA Writer most of the time.

Scrivener
Scrivener

Reading and Research

Feedly is my go-to RSS Reader, and one of the apps I open on my iPad every morning (just after the email, and right before Tweetbot)

I also like Pocket as a place to store articles I want to get to later on; it’s pretty amazing how beautiful the articles look, and how quickly they format, in this tool. It has an off-line mode too for those plane trips.

Evernote is also a tool I’ve used for a long time. I’ve got over 6k notes there now: snippets, recipes, book reviews, modem manuals. I keep thinking it’s something I could do without, but it isn’t. It’s like the bottom drawer of my desk; I just stick stuff in there when I don’t know what else to do with them.

For real ‘reading’ I use the standard Kindle App.

Pocket
Pocket

Images and Video

I take a lot of photos. While I wasn’t happy to subscribe to a text editor (see my Goodbye Ulysses post) I do subscribe to the Adobe Creative Suite; notably the Photoshop, Lightroom bundle. I was very sceptical about the new more online-orientated Lightroom CC product, but it syncs beautifully and is getting more and more tools.

Lightroom CC
Lightroom CC

I’ve also had a good look at a photo editor called Luminar, and particularly the new 2018 version. It’s $99AUD and has some impressive filters and effects and is getting better and better, updating fast. If I drop Photoshop it might be for this. I’ve tried, and beein unimpressed by Pixemalator and Snapseed on the Mac (though they both seem nicer on IOS) Luminar are saying an image organising tool is coming in 2018. I used to use Picasa for that, and miss a tool that can scroll effortlessly through thumbnails on the computer; maybe I should look at Adobe Bridge again?

Luminar
Luminar

I don’t do much with video, so I’m happy with iMovie and a little video converter called Video Monkey which quickly takes the .mov files out of my Olympus Pen and turns them into usable .mp4s.

Utilities

I use Alfred literally every time I’m on the Mac, to search, to launch programs and to skip to the next track on iTunes. If you’re keyboard orientated, like I am, it’s a real boon. (I should say at this point that I always use an external mechanical keyboard on my Macs. So much so that, whenever I have to type something in class on the Macbook keyboard, and the students can see how many mistakes I make on that terrible keyboard, it’s always worth a laugh.

Alfred
Alfred

For smaller, more specific, very targeted tasks I love Name Changer, which does the obvious, itsyCal, a little calendar that sits in your top menu bar, and LastPass for a password manager and Type it 4 Me, a great little productivity tool that replaced Text Expander for me when it too headed down the subscription model. With Type it 4 Me, I have a list of keyboard shorcuts xdate gives me the date, for example: 23/12/2017 and those snipppets are synced in the backgrouond so they’re always up to date on all my machines. The thing with keyboard shortcuts is that you dont’ want to have to re-learn them too often.

Type it 4 Me
Type it 4 Me

I don’t used backup software since I moved to OneDrive. I’m now that confident that it’s backing up my files in my personal cloud. I used Super Duper for a while but it seemed to become increasingly complex (have a go at backing up some folders rather than all, if you have half a day to spare!) I also use Dropbox for sharing files that I’m wanting to access and share currently.

Task Management and Planning

Task management is probably the place where I’ve spent the most money, taking a close look at Things, Wunderlist and ToDo before settling for 2DO which suits me very well.

2Do syncs seamlessly across my devices and is customisable enough to have projects, task lists and sub-projects. Importantly, for me, it follows the Getting Things Done paradigm created by David Allen, or at least follows it well enough for me.

2Do
2Do

For planning, and communicating, using concepts, I use MindNode, a concept mapping tool …iStat Mini, a compact way to keep an eye on your CPU, memory pressure, battery, disk usage and network activity.

And, if I want to do a proper email, not just a couple of lines composed in Inbox, I use Airmail email client.

Thanks for listening, and thanks to John for the inspiration.
Happy New Year.

It’s all about next year

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One of the strange things about teaching in a school, and maybe especially about being involved in some leadership, is just how much of your time is spent planning for next year, even from halfway through the current year.

I’d say that about a third of my time in the last term has been about 2018: the information evenings, the student choices, the staffing, the timetable construction, the technology planning and the move into transition, which means for us that 2018 classes actually begin in the last fortnight of 2017.

While it’s all important, most of this kind of planning is pretty dry, and pretty uninspiring.

Not today though, when I started looking a bit more closely at teaching texts for 2018 in Literature. Getting those books together on the table was exciting. There, in Shakespeare, Conrad, Winterson and others, is the basis for a year of teaching ahead. Just add students!

Lessons from the decline and fall of the IWB Empire

What can we learn from the hype around IWBs that dominated things? I’ve written a few times here about my reservations about interactive whiteboards, and I think that penny has well and truly dropped.

At a recent discussion around the new technologies we might put in place, the only objections to NOT going with whiteboards in the future came from some primary teachers and a Science teacher who liked the way he could manipulate and show things using little apps with the board.

For the record my reservations around IWBs have been that they retain the control of the ‘means of production’ with the teacher. They’re teacher-centric devices, they’re ‘look at me’ devices, they’re top-down cinema style devices. The teacher showing, while the audience watches on, rapt. That’s it.

And, I think that, while the article I’ve linked to below has some of the wrong reasons for the demise in IWBs, there’s growing agreement that, like the Roman Empire, they’re past their best.

https://www.edsurge.com/n/2013-10-22-lessons-from-the-downfall-of-interactive-whiteboards