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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?

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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?

Teaching 21C, and no teachers in sight

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Is it okay to attend an all day conference called Teaching 21C: the big issues facing the profession today and not, in the whole day, hear from a practising teacher?

I understand that you don’t come to a conference to hear only from teachers . You can get that around the photocopier or at the water cooler and there has been the growth of more hand-on options like TeachMeets where practitioners can share practice, not to mention the networks you can develop in platforms like Twitter. You go to hear from experts, and learn.

But I did feel, at the end of a long day that felt at times a brow-beating (if not belittling) of the teachers who constituted most of the audience, that it wouldn’t have been hard to include some teachers who might be able to contribute to the discussion, if only to respond to some of the provocations.

Don’t get me wrong; there were some good moments, particularly the session on evidence-based practice that seemed firmly grounded in, and linked to, how real schools work. Suzie Riddell (SVA) took us through a toolkit for schools called Evidence of Learning, which seeks to help schools make good choices about what kinds of change you might choose to implement in terms of $$ costs, evidence for a positive effect on learning, including links to more reading and the scale of that effect; a bit like Hattie’s work put to good use.

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Earlier, Jan Owen took us through the FYA report on ‘The New Work Order’, emphasising the forces of automation, globalisation and flexibility that are disrupting work opportunities, especially for young people. You can download the whole report HERE (PDF)

But they were the highlights.

It wasn’t great to hear Teach for Australia rep. Melodie Potts Rosevear telling us how she was looking forward to the present generation of teachers to retire. (Spoiler alert: I wasn’t a fan of Teach for Australia before and I’ve blogged about that HERE and HERE; I just don’t think parachuting fast-tracked graduates into teaching and leadership, no matter how smart, does anything more than diminish the profession. Lawyers for Australia? I’d like to see that.)

Geoff Masters (ACER) was one of the keynotes and one of the most disappointing. He showed a series of un-labelled slides, designed to highlight falling standards in Australian learning outcomes (PISA, naturally). In some of the slides (shown below) high results were good, others when they were bad. It was hard to follow; they had no titles, there were no scales.

Masters talked about ‘Five Challenges’ facing Australian education: declining standards, growing disparities between schools, students falling year level expectations, students starting school at risk of being locked into long-term low achievement and (irony alert) teaching is becoming less attractive as a career option for able school leavers. Masters didn’t take questions.

And not a teacher got to speak.

It was all summed up in final plenary panel of grey-haired white men, a dynamic that even they felt a little embarrassed by.

Implementing an LMS

Implementing an LMS

Paul Mears (Firbank GS)

http://www.scoop.it/paulmears

@paulmears

Paul talked about

1 How to be strategic with human-centred design

2 selection process of an LMC

3 Implementing for success

This was interesting, beginning with a focus on ‘human centred thinking and design. ‘Opportunities, not problems’, which came out of Stanford.

He argued for ‘shadowing’, observation, interviews … and the importance of ‘student agency’ Bring the students in, give them respect and they’ll rise to the occasion.

When he talked to students the students hated the ‘mushrooms’ that had popped up with different teachers all doing their own things. They wanted to select a unifying LMS and shared the process they used to select that company. (Firefly)

Mears prefers ‘integrated learning platform’ to LMS, as the platform should integrate diverse things like YouTube, ClickView, Google Docs, PowerPoint

This was the most practical session I had for the day. Good advice, ‘The main thing is to make the main thing the main thing’

 

 

Creating Future X, Y and Z

Creating Future X,Y Z

John Vamvatkitis (Google)

Now, for something more expected. Google Director John Vamvakitis argued that the world is at our fingertips, meaning that the next prodigy can emerge from anywhere.

‘Now the world is at our fingertips’

So, how is it redefining teaching and learning?

Empowering Gen Z – ‘technology is everywhere’. This was more like music to the ears. Skills for the future are what students need (nice slide, which I’ll try to find) He talked about ‘converting information into intelligence’.

Preparing for the future: ‘Collaboration is the new normal…’

Re-imagining today. He then talked about new models of learning, transferring ownership to students … Oh oh. ‘A guide’ … (On the side?) Some possibilities were problem-based learning, flipped classroom, blended learning (the best of face to face with digital learning)

He argued for three tests for technology: sustainability, equity and impact. (Compare Google Apps for Education with OneNote shared notebook)

The whole thing was a bit of an add for Google classroom, Google Apps for Education, Chromebooks, Google Expeditions, Android etc etc.

It all got a bit misty-eyed at the end. ‘IT takes a teachers’, technology is only a ‘tool’.

About the session

9:20 | Creating Future XYZ

Education is about creating the future. Access to information is changing the way we communicate, work and learn. Technology is empowering us solve to complex problems with wild, imaginative—or even unimaginable—solutions. When it comes to building the future, what really matters – same as ever – is people. And the people who do make a difference are going to be the ones who have the right skills. How do we enable students to thrive in a rapidly evolving environment? How do we prepare students with the right skill set to take up jobs that do not exist today?

 John M. Vamvakitis, Director International, Google for Education

 

 

Life with a smartwatch

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Just before Christmas I saw an offer on a Pebble Smartwatch. $100AU from Amazon (+ postage) for the basic model, in black. I’d been a little jealous of a friend’s Apple watch for six months so decided to take the plunge and see how much value there is in a watch.

I’d been wearing a Fitbit for a while and that buzzed when the phone rang and gave information as to who was ringing, which was handy, and the Pebble does that too, and that’s the essence of it. It syncs via Bluetooth to your phone and any notifications come to your wrist.

I’ve been using it now for three months and thought I might reflect on the idea of the smartwatch, and the Pebble specifically. I’m not trying to do a full-on review, there’s lots of sites like Mashable and iMore that do that kind of thing; this is a more personal kind of reflection.

On the positive side, I’ve actually been impressed with just how handy it can be have a snippet of information on your wrist, rather than pull it out of your pocket, and not just for the ‘persons liked your post’ notifications, but messages, Google updates, and more. I like the way I can alter the watch faces and I like some of the customisation and apps you can buy (including AFL footy score updates!) I seem to get just under a week’s battery out of the Pebble, which is also pretty good.

On the negative side, the Pebble is still a bit limited. You can’t make calls or record any audio. My black and white screen is pretty basic. It’s one of those things that’s useful, not essential, nice to have. It might be a different thing if I was looking at the Apple watch, but at $500AU minimum that’s in a different price-bracelet to the Pebble.

So, are there any educational possibilities beyond the slight paranoia around watches and exams? Maybe not. I’ve yet to see a compelling use-case for the watch as a learning tool, but it may come. Field trips supplemented by GPS, quick messaging to groups on the run, the kind of quick updates, alerts, hat might prove useful for students out on an excursion.

I’m still wearing it; at $100 it’s been worth it, but I’m not desperate to spend $500 for something with the current feature-set.