Thursday, April 20, 2017

NAPLAN online - where to now?

It is concerning that in 2017 it is still not possible for NAPLAN online to be trialed due to technology issues.  In the IT industry, on line testing has been a normal activity for more than 20 years.  As far as I can recall I sat my first pro-metric on line exam in 1995, it may have been even earlier.

I know Perth schools have been using online testing software for student bench-marking for at least the last 10 years.  I was part of the first trials of on-line WACE exams in 2012 and technology has surely moved significantly since then.

It seems to me the real challenge for NAPLAN online is not the technology but the whole idea.  We are using 21st century tech to replicate 19th century philosophy (everyone sits the same test the same day with exactly the same questions) to solve a 20th century problem (we need to benchmark in a single pass the entire education system from a single student to the nation as a whole).

What we need to do is use the 21st century technology and answer the 21st century questions with a 21st century philosophy.

NAPLAN should indeed be a bench-marking system and it should enable instant feedback to students, teachers, school leadership, parents, and governments.  It should also do that constantly and in ways that are adding value to the education system.  Indeed if NAPLAN was a testing platform able to deliver from a bank of thousands of questions in web based tests on an as needed basis the picture of how our education sector is performing would be far more accurate.  As Facebook, Twitter, and every other Social Media platform knows regular contact builds a far more accurate picture of the user.

Teachers should be able to use a NAPLAN system to quickly benchmark students as often as they please.  They should have to use the platform at least once a term for testing Math and English.

Until that is the case NAPLAN online will continue to be a huge technical challenge.  The need to use the same questions on the same day to the entire cohort on a technology platform which doesn't favour one school over another is in my view an impossible dream.

NAPLAN online risks having further negative implications on the education sector.  Teachers training students for the test instead of using valuable class time to develop skills will remain
the most significant criticism of that system.  The impact will be multiplied as NAPLAN online encourages teachers to teach typing skills to improve performance on the test instead of teaching the curriculum.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Is Tech a 'Toy' or a 'Tool'?

I started thinking on this topic from one side and finished up on the other side.  I was looking at how if not engaged with properly, Technology in the classroom could easily become a distracting 'toy' as opposed to being an engaging 'tool'.  This seems like a statement of the obvious, when a piece of technology is used for entertainment how can it become a serious teaching and learning tool?

I think back to our first years of running a 1:1 Notebook program when we banned teachers from allowing Notebooks to be used to play games in classrooms.  The assumption was that a game would always be distracting from good teaching and learning.  Could we have been more wrong!  The engagement from educational 'games' has been widely documented.  A blanket statement about the good or bad for any particular part of the technology picture is very much like any generalisation and shouldn't be used to rule out anything.

As I thought through the best way to describe my thoughts about the 'toys' versus 'tools' arguments I was planning an argument around books and how they're used.  I then realised as I reflected upon my own school life and how I was learning with books as I grew up, I could easily make a good argument that even when used for non educational / recreational purposes learning is often enhanced.  The reading of non-educational material was key to my reading skills developing.  I was hardly ever engaged by the text books we had to read as part of the curriculum.  However, when I was reading 'Biggles' (Note 1)for days at a time over the holidays I was more engaged with reading than I would have been otherwise.  I wan't reading with a vision to become a pilot or aeronautical engineer it was purely enjoyment of the story.

Is there a similar effect from entertainment or even social networking on technology?  When students take home their particular piece of technology and then engage with the technology to meet their entertainment needs they are still learning something.

Can non educational use of technology be seen as enhancing the skills needed by students in the 21st century?  Of course it can, the non classroom use of technology which will allow our students to better engage with the opportunities and benefits delivered by technology.  The responsibility for making sure the classroom use of technology is su
pporting teaching and learning remains with the teacher, the same way teachers would have to ensure I was reading supplied texts and not my Biggles books whilst in the classroom.

Technology doesn't cause problems and can't fix them. When engagement with technology is well designed, classrooms are transformed and that will deliver amazing experiences for students.

(Note 1) -

Monday, March 13, 2017

Technology may be too good to be true!

I have been concerned about the degree of 'Due Diligence' being carried out by schools since teachers started developing their own programs using amazing online resources such as Google classroom, Edmodo and OneNote Classroom.  I worry that much of the fine print on educational sites and in apps is ignored as they are such fantastic resources.  

Is the responsibility for ensuring the suitability of sites and apps is purely left at the teachers discretion? There is a huge potential for problems with inappropriate management of student information and activity if that’s the approach schools are taking.  

I’ve worked with a school Integration Team to create a process ensuring the School approves of the educational resources for teachers to use.  This should be seen as vital in all schools to ensure acknowledgment of the risk web and app based activities could present for teachers and students in particular.  

The process decided on means the school, through the Integration Team, takes responsibility for assessing and documenting appropriate education resources for teachers to use in their classrooms. The first stage is making sure any teaching resource provides an educational value which is not being met by other systems already in use.  The system is then assessed to ensure the technical, legal and ethical values of the School are met before any educational resource can be used in the classroom.  This standard is then applied to any service or system which requires a student identifies themselves.

When we started developing the standard it quickly became apparent this was going to be a significant undertaking.  As soon as we started looking at the fine print in those user agreements, which sometimes were very long and not necessarily written in easy to understand English, it became obvious that this was something which was badly needed.

The most important part of this procedure was defining responsibility for assessing all of the important decisions ensured teachers didn't have to assume someone else had looked at it.  I feel sometimes the assumption that all apps and web sites are compliant with Australian privacy legislation is a very dangerous starting point.  

It seems to me that all schools and governing bodies need to take far more responsibility for the implications of technology programs.  The online services and apps deemed as appropriate for teaching and learning need to be better understood before schools push them to student devices or send student there as part of their learning.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Rise of the Four Letter Acronym

I remember in the later part of the 20th century when everyone in IT was searching for new Three Letter Acronyms (TLA).  Every project need to be reduced to a new TLA, IT became ICT, DR became BCP and we used to have challenges in meetings to see who would use the most meaningless TLAs.

To prove it is 25% better than ICT, the education sector seems to be caught up in a spiral of Four Letter Acronyms (for simplicity I will reduce that to a TLA of FLA).  The rise of BYOD and STEM in the language of education has emphasised the influence ICT is increasingly having in this area.

To quote Pauline Hansen "I don't like it".  The use of catch phrases is incongruous with these terms being adopted to suit a message and that has a huge influence of the meaning of these terms.

For instance the much maligned (by me) BYOD, has attempted to be morphed into BYOT, BYOX, and just about every other BYO? possible.  All of these are trying to express something which would be far clearer in plain English.  I believe calling a 'parent supplied iPad program' just that, to be much clearer than 'BYO?'. Is there a problem with calling a schools Notebook program "Parent Owned Notebook program" rather than a 'BYO? program'.  Those terms will both explain and differentiate the concept correctly.  If you are implementing a true platform agnostic device program there would be far less confusion if the terminology for the program reflected your educational expectations not use a trendy FLA.  If you really need a FLA for your bring any device program I suggest you call it a Device Agnostic Learning Environment (DALE) and then the acronym will mean something.  By the way one of the problems I have with the term BYOD in education is that not many students want to use their own device for learning it is far more useful for socialising and gaming.

So on to STEM, or if you are really smart STEAM, once again these terms seem to simplify the complex but in reality confuse the masses.  What does STEM really mean?  It means we need to make some of the dryer (Math and Science) subjects seem to be important above the humanities and creative subjects.  This seems obvious, as technology advances these subjects should be where we need to concentrate the 21st Century learning.  Unfortunately, from my experience and following on from some significant reading and listening, this is not the case.  It seems the only jobs we are going to do better than machines in the mid term view are based around humanities and creativity.

Admittedly a lot of that creativity is going to be in the Scientific and Engineering areas but the key differentiation is still human imagination.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

The Greatest Challenge – Improving Teacher ICT Awareness and Skills!

Since the first focus on using ICT in classrooms the need to increase the awareness of and improve skills in the use of technology for all staff, particularly teachers, has been of universal concern.  In fact this has probably been of concern forever, it’s just the change driven by technology and the increasing rate of that change has highlighted deficiencies in these areas.

I’ve been attending ICT focused Conferences for more than 10 years and this topic has been of interest to all attendees.  My discussions with many schools from all types of demographics and budgets has highlighted a few methods to deliver Professional Development to staff.

Method 1 – On site training delivered by an ICT specialist during teacher down time (Lunch time or after school).  This is almost certainly the cheapest form of PD for the school to produce.  The ICT specialist can either be from within staff or arranged through a vendor.  This type of session is normally voluntary and the value is greatest for staff already implementing technology.

Method 2 – On site training with teacher relief provided for staff or PD is conducted during Professional Development days.  The cost of this is increased as the staff costs for the relief teachers need to be covered by the school or it is competing for access against the myriad of requirements on any staff PD day.  This type of training is normally mandatory for staff.

Method 3 – Just in time support.  In this circumstance a teacher will have support in their classroom for using the technology.  This could either be in the form of a technical support person assisting the teacher and showing them how to deal with issues or with a curriculum ‘expert’ assisting with the implementation and transferring skills to the teacher.  This is probably the most effective way for teachers to be supported in the adoption of technology as it is entirely at a practical level.  It does require staff to be available as needed by teachers.  In this scenario there’s a need for the teacher to reach out so the communication path of other types of PD is reversed. 

Method 4 – Off site PD.  This type of PD is readily available and includes those run by vendors, peak bodies and in some cases, schools.  Most times there’s a cost for this type of PD and the need for relief. 

All of these methods have issues which limit their effectiveness.

Method 1 – (Free on site) Often training which is ‘free’ is deemed to have no value and therefore little importance is placed on attending this type of session.  As this is dependent upon staff committing to use their time to come to the training the pressure to attend is less than the need to deal with other issues so the PD is easily pushed aside by any urgent matter.  I have seen PD sessions like this timetabled for entire terms in order to enable planning for teachers, often only two or three sessions out of more than 30 have anyone attend.  At other times when they’re directly supporting a new technology, such as when we rolled out Interactive Projectors, they’re very popular, well attended and give great value.

Method 2 – (Paid on site) There’s a limit to how often this type of training is used.  Either the cost or just the number of PD days limits the number of opportunities to utilise this type of training.  Of course it would be good practice to have this included in a technology project plan when deploying classroom technology.  In my experience schools are very sensitive about the cost of IT projects, this means that normally the implementation stage of these projects is curtailed to reduce costs.  In turn the loss of the implementation stage reduces the amount committed to training.  Most vendors of IT equipment into schools will have allowance for training as part of their plan.  When the school reduces the training it will slow the adoption of technology, which almost always leads to slower adoption of new technologies.

Method 3 – (Just in time) There are two main factors limiting the adoption of this type of PD/support. 

The first limitation is around communication.  To properly use this method it must be sold to teachers so they know what’s available.  Staff should know they can call up and have someone come and look after them whenever they need.  Often this is not the expectation with teaching staff.  The other communications issue is; teachers need to let the support person know when and where they will need them and also what they’re needed for.

The second limitation is the resourcing problem.  How do you have a staff member on-call with suitable skills?  If the school has acknowledged the need for staff support with technology implementation this will be provided, however if the expectation is staff will just adopt technology, this will not be the case.

Method 4 – (Off site) The appeal in the off-site PD is to those who are already interested in adopting technology.  It’s self-selecting, doesn’t get the vast majority of teachers involved and the goal of complete adoption of technology will never be realised if this is the only type of PD available.

Each of these methods has shown to be less than ideal, but when combined in the right balance can lead teachers to have confidence in the implementation of technology in their classroom:

·        When those keen adopters of technology are given the opportunity for off-site training, they bring those skills back to provide on-site PD to others, just as importantly they then become advocates for the technology.

·        When teachers are well supported for both the technical and curriculum aspects of technology in their classroom, when the school is willing to persevere to improve the confidence and skills of their staff in the use of technology, there will be continuous improvement in the classroom use of technology.

The efforts to provide staff with the skills to embed technology into the classroom will not reduce any time soon.  The changes in teaching practice being driven by technology are likely to continue for the foreseeable future and so will the need to build skills.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

What is next?

What is next can be the hardest question to get right in the context of ICT, not only for schools and individual classrooms but also for every industry and company.  Crystal ball gazing can be very dangerous, especially with the rate of change in technology appearing to be extremely high.  However, when you look at trends, it is normally a predictable rate of implementing innovation into schools.  It is only when there is an unexpected disruptor we normally experience rapid change.

An example is the change in 1:1 computing expectations within schools.  Until 2008, there had been slow progress by schools towards 1:1 Laptop programs.  These were normally very expensive and required a strong commitment from the School Leadership to implement such programs. Having started in Melbourne, the 1:1 ideal had spread slowly across Australia and in some US school districts and state wide in Maine.

2008 and 2009 saw two disruptors that changed the vision of schools around 1:1 technology access.  The first disruptor was the Prime Minister making 1:1 technology availability in schools a policy imperative and committing federal funding to make it happen.  The second disruptor was in 2009 when Apple announced the iPad, which provided a smaller and cheaper alternative to Laptops as student technology. 

The Horizon Report

One of the best resources for planning for the next big thing in technology for schools is the Horizon Report.  The Horizon Report is published by the New Media consortium (NMC) and the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN).  It provides guidance on technology trends thought to be a significant impact in education.  The research is thorough with the process for determining what technology makes it onto the list open and visible.  I have heard the Horizon Report referenced many times in presentations about technology and it is widely referenced for strategic planning.

Therefore, with the disclaimer that all predictions depend on the lack of a significant disruptor to the status quo I have some thoughts surrounding the trends, challenges and technologies highlighted in the Horizon Report.


Increased use of Blended Learning

I think most teachers in Australian schools are seeing the value of blended learning.  In the resource and technologically rich schools, this can include flipped classroom models, which seems to offer great benefits for educators.  In less advantaged schools, the ability to scaffold using digital resources, although limited by the cost of those resources, is still of high value in allowing some personalised learning opportunities. 

If technology is reliable and simple to use, blended learning for traditional subjects will become deep-seated and should eventually become good practice.  The challenge for teachers is to know just what resources are available.  With that in mind, teachers really should be collaborating in order to share resources; one great opportunity for that sharing is TeachMeet (

Rise of STEAM Learning

There is increased emphasis within the Australian Curriculum for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).  The idea of incorporating other more creative activities into the technology spectrum has created the idea of STEAM learning, in STEAM the A is for the Arts.  Incorporating the creative pursuits into the traditional very dry content promotes the option of project based learning.  The move to project based learning is one of the strengths of technology rich learning as the depth and variety of resources available through technology enhances the learning experience and will potentially engage students at a deeper level.

The level of technology provided into classrooms must support the students by having the freedom to access the most appropriate resources.  These resources could be in the form of software or just be information from the internet.


Creating Authentic Learning Experiences

This challenge is one Australia is moving towards covering as technology is adopted for virtual experiences of many of our greatest assets.  The distances and travel costs within Australia seem to have energised the tourism industry with the energy to provide digital experiences; perfect for schools to incorporate into the learning experience.   A dive in the Great Barrier Reef can be accessed digitally and from that, any number of real life exercises can be created to cover many subjects. 

There seems to be a slow uptake of these type of resources.  I see the role of resource identification being very important as the number and quality of digital resources increases.  Schools should be supporting teachers with this identification of resources.  This is probably the new role for traditional Librarians, as the digital resources will augment the information resources in the library.  It may also be an opportunity for the ICT department to become more involved in the educational process.

Integrating Technology in Teacher Education

I think schools treat their teachers as lifelong learners and expect they will in turn produce students who will also become lifelong learners.  The learning of appropriate use of technology for teachers can be one of the best investments in staff made by a school.  There are many options for staff Personal Development (PD) to build technology skills.  I have previously written about the need for appropriate PD for Teachers.


Bring Your Own Device

I am not a big fan of this terminology as it really about ownership, but the key take away in the Horizon Report is, students should be able to use their phone or other technology in addition to their primary learning device.  As long as there is a specified device for learning, the biggest restriction on the additional devices will only be the capacity of infrastructure to handle extra connections and PD for teachers.


I think the creativity of STEAM curriculum and Makerspaces work well together as long as the goal is to engender creativity and entrepreneurship in students.  The most difficult part of this will be incorporating those traditional elements of learning into these spaces.  A key thing to keep in mind is the need to cross over from the digital ‘virtual’ world into the analogue ‘real’ world. 

 The entire Horizon Report can be viewed at

Monday, May 23, 2016

Lemonade from lemons

As always ICT Departments all over the country will be busy with projects of all shapes and sizes.  At some point through a project, many will be faced with some kind of problem.  Problems can arise due to the lack of planning or resource shortages, which almost every school ICT program deals with.  Other issues will be caused by external sources such as vendors/suppliers, unexpected incidents or even extreme weather.

During my time supporting ICT in schools and talking to many other specialists in ICT support I have often been witness to and or part of many potential disasters, which has provided me with the experience to be able to offer some simple pieces of advice that may assist you by turning these ‘lemons’ into ‘lemonade’.

Communication is “King”

You need to communicate

You can end up with a negative outcome should you fail to communicate the current status of projects to stakeholders. If you regularly set the timeline expectations and planned outcomes of projects, everyone tends to become more involved and empathise with you about the effort you seem to be expending.  In 2011/2012 we were deploying a new model of laptop into our 1:1 Notebook program.  As it turned out the manufacture of the computers was delayed by effect of the Japanese Tsunami and flooding in Thailand.  I acted as soon as it became obvious the supplier couldn't meet our planned timeline for students to start the year with a new computer.  I contacted the affected parents, students and teachers and informed them of the delay and the expected delivery time table.  We worked with teachers to ensure curriculum delivery was impacted as little as possible.  Even though the delivery was achieved one term late we had negligible complaints because everyone felt they had been on the same journey.

Your vendors need to communicate

The most frustrating project I have been involved with was another supplier delay issue.  This time the manufacturer of the equipment was promising us and our reseller that the hardware was ‘on the truck’.  This happened right up until a week before school started when they finally let us know there was no stock in Australia and no plans to bring more in.  After more than ten years being our preferred hardware platform we immediately purchased equivalent products from another vendor and that long term relationship ended.  If we had been informed of the supply issue as soon as they knew we could have ordered an alternative item from their catalogue.  The lack of communication ended the relationship which was worth a considerable amount annually. 

Hold your suppliers to account

We spent 8 months planning a complete network upgrade with the engineering staff from a major hardware supplier.  The entire network was designed in accordance with our needs and was specified to be of high enough quality to last many years.  When we started to unpack and configure the network it became clear they had not specified the network switches to be able to provide power to the wireless access points.  This oversight by their design team had gone unnoticed by quality control, it is very easy to miss those sort of details (letter suffixes on switches) when reviewing complex proposals.  Immediately the manufacturer offered to supply us with equipment to power those access points and another set of switches was ordered and sent to us to replace those power injectors.

Manufacturers can afford more than resellers

Have you ever had an issue with an IT project that wasn’t your fault?  You have more chance of relief from a manufacturer who has generated a significant profit from the supplied equipment than from the re-seller who made 5 – 10% in your competitive bidding process.  Always start by communicating with your supplier/re-seller and have them in your corner, if the issue isn’t your fault and you’ve made sure your specification is correct, manufacturers will have many more resources to throw at remediating problems.  Of course I’m only talking about the tier 1 manufacturers, this is why you pay more for Cisco, HP, IBM, Toshiba and similar brands.

Don’t assume – anything!!

The most common mistake I’ve made is assuming that everyone can see the picture.  In the old days (remember them) when we had to order a new piece of hardware for every server you wanted to build I would often order HP servers from their parts list on the web site.  A few times I received servers that were missing important parts of the configuration because I assumed the engineer with whom I had been working would look over the configuration and check I hadn’t missed anything.  Having to order a hard disk controller or battery backup card for a controller was often needed when we came to build the hardware.  I found the best way was to have the engineer from the supplier specify the server and me look over the specification meant far less errors.

Prepare for the worst and be grateful for small mercies

When planning projects in schools I think we often expect the best and get caught out when things change slightly.  Sometimes when we look at the timing for our projects we end up missing a detail because significant information is in silos.  When we plan an upgrade put the plan in place, send the email to let everyone know we will be taking the system off line and suddenly there is an exam, an administrative process running or some event which has happened for years that we didn’t know about.  Don’t panic we can get away with it.  Rule number 1 is important; just communicate.

The lemonade is far more common than lemons

Despite the issues over the past 15 years, the results of my projects and my methodology has actually improved.  The lemons are now down to less than 5% of the projects I have started and I think overall there is a 100% lemonade rate.  I think this has been achieved by just not panicking.