Sunday, November 18, 2012

Investment in Technology in Education a waste of money?

Bit of a long one this but here goes......

Nesta in the Uk have produced a pretty wide ranging study on the use of IT in Education.

The report argues in favour of increased use of technology but is critical of much that is being done in many schools. The more critical parts are highlighted in this article in the Telegraph.

The full report is here

My reading of the report is that it boils down to an argument that investment in technology without training for both teachers and students and without a change in teaching methods will be a waste of money as it will have little beneficial impact but that technology in education used well is very promising.

Food for thought


Report abstract & conclusion

In the last five years UK schools have spent more than £1 billion on digital technology. From interactive whiteboards to tablets, there is more digital technology in schools than ever before. But so far there has been little evidence of substantial success in improving educational outcomes.

Something is going wrong.

Nesta commissioned the London Knowledge Lab (LKL) and Learning Sciences Research Institute (LSRI), University of Nottingham, to analyse how technology has been used in the UK education systems and lessons from around the world. Uniquely, we wanted this to be set within a clear framework for better understanding the impact on learning experiences.

Decoding Learning finds proof of technology supporting effective learning, emerging technologies that show promise of impact, and exciting teacher practice that displays the potential for effective digital education.

November 2012

Rosemary Luckin, Brett Bligh, Andrew Manches, Shaaron Ainsworth, Charles Crook, Richard Noss.

We looked for proof, potential and promise in digital education.

We found proof by putting learning first. We have shown how different technologies can improve learning by augmenting and connecting proven learning activities. This approach gives us a new framework for evaluating future innovations in education.

The numerous examples of good practice identified in this report show that there is also
a great deal that can be done with existing technology. it is clear that there is no single technology that is ‘best’ for learning. We have identified technology being used effectively to support a variety of learning activities and learners across a wide range of subjects and learning environments. rather, different technologies can be used to support different forms of learning, either individually or in conjunction with others.

There is a growing body of invaluable evidence that demonstrates how technology can
be used effectively to support learning. however, if that evidence is going to be useful in practice it needs to address the contexts within which the technology is used; and it needs to be presented in ways that are accessible to industry, teachers and learners.

We found clear potential to make better use of technologies that are widely available and that many schools have already purchased. but this potential will only be realised through innovative teaching practice. Teachers may require additional training that enables them to use technologies in new ways.

There is enormous potential for further innovation in digital education. success will come from commercial developers, researchers, teachers and learners working together to develop, test and spread imaginative new technologies.

We also found many areas of promise; that is, areas where technology is currently undervalued and underused. We found relatively little technological innovation in some of the more effective learning themes we considered in chapter 2. for example, the market is saturated with drill and practice games (particularly for maths) to support Learning through Practising despite being regarded as one of the less powerful learning themes. meanwhile, there has been relatively little technological innovation aimed at supporting Learning through Assessment – which can be a powerful aid to teaching and learning.

Over recent decades, many efforts to realise the potential of digital technology in education have made two key errors. collectively, they have put the technology above teaching and excitement above evidence. This means they have spent more time, effort and money looking to find the digital silver bullet that will transform learning than they have into evolving teaching practice to make the most of technology. if we are to make progress we need to clarify the nature of the goal we want to satisfy through future innovation. much existing teaching practice may well not benefit greatly from new technologies. as we continue to develop our understanding of technology’s proof, potential and promise, we have an unprecedented opportunity to improve learning experiences in the classroom and beyond.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Raspberry Pi - Another New Toy

I got my hands on a Raspberry Pi this morning in school. Not having a monitor with a HDMI connection I decided to try out the convertor I got a while back to connect an Apple TV to a VGA projector. The Kanex ATV Pro was recommended by Greg Ashe on the CESI mailing list

I did a short video showing the Pi booting, loading the desktop, going to a web page and loading Scratch. The video was done with a phone in one hand and typing and using the computer with the other so the production quality is poor but you can see it works fine.

No idea what I'm going to do with this thing yet.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Zambia 2011

I am in the Camara Hub working with Lecturers from Kitwe College of Education - Zambia

Friday, May 20, 2011

Re-Imaging Learning

I was at the “Re-Imagining Learning” conference in Limerick last weekend where the theme was Junior Cycle Curriculum Integration. I’m not even going to try to summarise or even list the thirty or so talks and presentations by practitioners from home and abroad. Suffice it to say there was a lot of food for thought and I’m sure those in attendance will be reflecting on what they heard for quite some time.

It was encouraging to see and engage with presenters and attendees from pretty much all the key sectors/communities of the education system including NCCA, UL, TCD, UCD, DIT, DCU, PDST, University of Toronto, University of Brighton, North Carolina State University, ESRI, Bridge21, Special Ed. Support Service, SEN Schools Network, Exploris Middle School, Teacher Unions, FIS, Davis College students and lots of teachers - who recognised a need for change even if we aren’t quite all in agreement what that change should be and how we might implement it.

Biographies and PDFs of the keynote presentations are available on the Educate Together website - and a full lineup of all the talks and presentations can be seen here . Emer Nowlan, Head of Education and Network Development at Educate Together and the main organiser of the event, was rightly congratulated at the end of the conference on managing to pull together such a rich programme for the conference and I’m told there are plans to get videos of the keynotes online soon.

Part of the discussion, during and between sessions, revolved around the question of what Ireland might do in this area if we were starting from scratch, what would our needs be and what systems might we put in place. Along with the NCCA, and the University of Limerick, the conference was organised by Educate Together, the representative body of the 58 Educate Together primary schools, who find themselves in exactly this position as they start to explore getting involved in second level schools.

Educate Together have done a lot of work on what it would mean to be an Educate Together secondary school. One document they have produced,, explores this question and there is much that is worth reflecting on for all second level schools in the light of possible changes in the junior cycle. In particular, section two looks at "Curriculum, Teaching & Learning" and includes the suggestion that Educate Together schools might not do the Junior Cert at all - there is in fact no statutory requirement for second level schools to do so.

There is a fair amount of momentum behind reform in the Junior Cycle with the Minister in support. One body that seems to have the ear of the Minister is the NCCA and I expect their proposals will hold a lot of sway in the process. Findings and discussion documents from their work are available here and check out the slides from John Hammond's presentation from the conference.

In discussion among teachers in my school the debate can get heated at times with some looking for radical change and others looking to prune some things and promote others. One teacher commented: “something I've been thinking about recently is how the Junior Cert offers very little challenge for more able students”. Another suggested “there is much to be said for retaining the elements of our system that nourish real educational development while binning all the guff that we have accumulated more by accident than design” and yet another suggested we “strip the engine back to its essentials and then add 'applications' carefully”.

One of the things that attracts me to this discussion is that I see a fantastic opportunity to open the door to ICT integration into teaching and learning where the fruits of the work can be assessed and included in whatever the Junior Cert becomes or is replaced by. All too often students can put great work into both curricular and co-curricular activities and projects, work from which they undoubtedly gain much at a personal level but which is not measured by either the Junior Cert or Leaving Cert. It is perhaps an indictment of the current system that much of the most interesting stuff involving the use of ICT by students at 2nd level happens in TY where folk are free to escape the state exam system. Another bete noir of mine is the fact that a student can get maximum points in the Leaving Cert without ever having read a book other than the course text book and without ever using a computer or any other ICT more advanced than a bic pen. A couple of exceptions are the T4 subjects and a small ICT component in Music.

I think one of the difficulties we face when considering change is that we as teachers are in many ways the measure of success in our existing system. If there is a ladder of achievement then we are pretty near the top of it having successfully navigated the Inter Cert, Leaving Cert, primary degree and H. Dip. Some have gone on to do other diplomas and masters degrees and there are even a couple of Ph.D.s knocking about. As teachers within the education system, the next rung up the ladder would be lecturing at 3rd level and thats about as far up the ladder as you can go. The system that we succeeded in is pretty much the same system in place now and I think it is hard for us to conceive of any other. Over the years as guiding hands in our education system we have become excellent at processing students through this system and while I'm pretty sure young folk today are no cleverer than the folk that came before, the grades they are getting rise year on year to the extent that many of us might have struggled to get into third level today with the Leaving Certs we got way back in 19xx . The best teachers we had were the exemplars we emulate today and again it is hard for us to imagine things being done any other way to the same kind of standards and with the same level of rigor. We have an inclination to believe that changing our systems will inevitably involve a decline in standards.

Another challenge to change might come from parents. While many parents will buy into the need for change, they, like us, will have difficulty imagining what that change might be as they have come through the same systems as us and, for the most part, know no other. Like many of us, I think they may be inclined to believe that changing our systems will inevitably involve a decline in standards. This challenge may be more strongly experienced by schools who adopt change earlier - first with their heads above the parapet as it were.

The reality is that there are other ways of doing things and there are countries that seem to be doing a lot better than Ireland and who wouldn't want to adopt our systems for a second. One that has attracted a lot of attention in recent years is Finland who spend less time in the classroom than we do but seem to achieve a lot more.

In the last set of OECD Pisa stats Finland and Korea led the way with Ireland nearer "average" at 22nd place,3746,en_32252351_32235731_4656761...

Now the Finish system is radically different from our own and I don't expect we will see anything like this level of change any time soon, if ever, but I also think that tinkering round with our existing system isn't going to produce the changes that many are looking for. From what I was hearing at the weekend we may be looking at the following:
  • I think the Junior Cert is on the way out, and
  • Schools will have the freedom, or obligation if that is your perspective, to develop their own assessment systems.
  • I expect teachers will be involved in the assessment procedures rather than the centralised national system we have at present.
  • As each school will have its own assessment procedures, the tendency to benchmark schools against each other will be diminished. This will hopefully mitigate against parents being obsessed/pushy about how their child scores compared with others in other schools.
  • A push for cross curricular work - e.g.: a student works on a project with input from a number of teachers and perhaps assessment by a number of teachers rather than everything being subject based with input and assessment by a single teacher as is generally the case at present.
  • An increase in the use of educational technology where appropriate (yes, I confess, this is the bit that is drawing my interest to all of this).
  • There is a proposal that we might have short courses - circa 100 hours of study - and long courses - circa 200 hours of study.
  • The NCCA are proposing that when change happens it happens in all schools at the same time. This means there won't be a series of pilot projects but all schools will move at the same time. This doesn't mean that all change will happen overnight but there will probably be a transition period and it is suggested that all schools might not transition at the same pace.
Lots of other suggestions being discussed and I'm sure a lot of negotiating to be done with the teaching unions etc. but there is an opportunity to effect change now and one way or another we will need to engage with the process.

As for the Leaving Cert ... hmm, perhaps another day for that one ...

I'll finish with a quote that Brendan Tangney used to close the opening day of the conference that reflected the mood and atmosphere of those attending.
There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.

Monday, July 5, 2010

A New Toy - iPad

When the iPad was announced, students and teachers in the school were asking me would I get one and my standard answer was "probably ........ but I'm not sure why"

I was having dinner with a past pupil a few weeks ago and he told me he was heading to the states so I asked him to do some shopping on my behalf. So here I sit blogging on an iPad. Still not sure why I have bought it other than a bit of self indulgence but I have no regrets, it is a very cool device.

I remember when the first iPhone came out there were only an handful of applications and no app store. It was a very limited device compared to the current iPhone and the growing range of Android devices snapping at Apple heels. This new iPad has a similar feel about it and I expect it will only get better as new versions are developed.

For example I only seem to be able to put in plain text for this piece as the toolbars I normally have available don't work on an iPad. One I really want as well is to be able to edit Google Docs but the interface on the iPad is the same as for the iPhone. On a device this size and this powerful it seems silly that I can't edit Google Docs. I have played with Pages and it is very good indeed. It would be nice to have a common file system for the various applications but I can live with that limitation for now and I'll email stuff to myself as needed so I can print etc. I'm not a big fan of flash but there is a lot of it out there and I'd prefer to be able to access it. Perhaps we will need to wait for Android tablets to get these kind of things.

I installed a nice application for writing code but it has the problem that getting code off the iPad and onto the server. I normally download a file, make changes and then put it back. The iPad doesn't really allow for moving files on and off easily. The application I installed takes a rather extraordinary step of installing a webserver on the iPad. To get files on or off the iPad for this app I have to go to another computer, fire up a web browser, put in the address of the web server running on the iPad which then allows me to download files from or upload files to the iPad. Much too convoluted for regular use.

I had a look at a couple of FTP applications but ran into a similar problem. I would be able to get files off the server to the iPad and vice versa with little problem but I can't then edit the files with the applications I would like to use. One FTP program did include a basic editor which might do and I'll check it out again to see if it will meet my needs.

Einstein once asked a student to write slowly on the board as he was a slow thinker. I'm no Einstein but I share the sentiment when it comes to typing. I'm not a very fast typist but that's ok as I don't think all that fast. I find though that I can type on the iPad about as fast as I normally type. I had thought I'd want to get the external keyboard but I'm not sure now I'll have a need for it.

The apps that work well on the iPhone are even better on the iPad. Things like VNC, email, web browsing, Stanza, Twitter etc. are nothing short of georgeous. Downloaded the Kindle app and bought a book and it seems promising too. YouTube and films look terrific. The iPad is in its element when you are consuming content rather than trying to create it.

Nonetheless a promising start and I'm looking forward to iOS 4 when it comes out. Most of all I hope the army of app developers find better ways to cope with the limitations Apple enforce.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

1000 ip Addresses?

The first network I setup and managed in my school was back in 1998 and consisted of 24 Windows 98 desktops with an NT4 server and backup server, all in one room with one computer linked to the internet. With over 200 machines on the network now I look back and wonder what on earth I used to do with my time when there were only 24.

I was over in Prague at Easter for an Apple education conference. I'd never been to Prague before and was glad of the opportunity to escape Ireland for a while and wind down a bit far from home. I reckon I'll see Prague again before too long as it is a beautiful city. I took a few photos and short video clips on an iPhone and stuck them together below.

Having time to reflect and chat with folk involved in ICT integration in other schools I had time to think about what trends I need to start planning for so I can start to support them as they emerge in my school. Nothing very unexpected really, a lot more mobile devices for the most part. Over the last couple of months we have reorganised the structure of the network a bit to allow for a lot more ip addresses to be dished out to students and staff as they are needed. I had been prompted to do this as we were running into a problem where we were running out of addresses and room for expansion was limited.

On the "more mobile devices" front I had been thinking along the lines of increased numbers of laptops and phones. I figured there might be a place for netbooks with their long battery life and handy size. I don't altogether buy Steve Jobs line that netbooks have no future as they "aren't better at anything".

However I don't see netbooks as laptop replacements for students. They do get some things right especially portability and battery life. While lighter laptops with better battery life are becoming available and will no doubt get lighter and better I don't think they are a particularly good technology for students to be taking from class to class. Battery life is still very much an issue and there are few laptops that will go for a full school day on one charge and with only a couple of sockets per classroom we can't support them. I'm thinking from a second level perspective where students move from class to class every 40 minutes. On the other side though I reckon a laptop is better for long periods of use if for no other reason than the size of the screen.

Nothing new in the above argument and I have been discussing this off and on with other teachers for nigh on two years since the 7" Asus came out. In the last couple of years netbooks have moved to bigger screens and faster processors so that there isn't much to choose between a low end laptop and a high end netbook other than the absence of a CD/DVD drive.

I have watched with interest what Apple might do in response to the growth of the netbook segment of the market but was taken aback when they announced the iPad which seemed to be just a big iPod touch. When asked would I be buying one I said I probably would but that I wasn't altogether sure why I would. Having read the reviews and thought about it a bit more I think the iPad will have a place in education but like the laptop, netbook and other mobile devices it won't cover all bases. I also see it as very much a version 1. I think the absence of a camera is the biggest omission for now. The absence of Flash support I can understand but it will be sorely missed in the classroom with the web content that is out there now. I wouldn't be surprised to see the camera appear in version 2 but it looks like Apple are hell bent on no Flash support. Lots of scope though for applications in education. Check out the periodic table of elements, iPad style ....

Of course there are other options coming on stream too. We are seeing quite a few Google Android based tablet devices appearing on the market and no doubt Chrome OS ones will follow before too long. These will support flash and will offer a more complete Internet experience I expect. However I don't expect they will get the kind of developer support that Apple have managed to get out of the gate but in time they may well catch up.

And Microsoft? They seem to have two possibilities at the moment. They are offering Windows 7 as the all singing, all dancing one size fits all OS. The HP iSlate is likely to be the lead product but I have my doubts about how useful it will be. From what I can see it will be a tablet laptop with no keyboard. One of the things that Apple have done with the iPod, iPhone and now iPad is develop a very easy to use, intuitive touch screen operating system. All the applications developed for iPhone OS work on that basis. Windows 7 though is a desktop/laptop operating system which will support touch screen technology. The vast majority of applications available for Windows 7 assume you will be using a keyboard and mouse/trackpad. I don't expect Microsoft will attract the level of Windows 7 development in the area of touch screen applications that Apple and Google will attract for their offerings. In the absence of a development community churning out applications I can see the iSlate having the drawbacks of a netbook without the advantages of a laptop that Windows 7 will support much better. Couple that with a smaller screen, lower resolution and half the battery life I don't think Apple or Google will lose sleep over the iSlate. Time will tell. One feature that Microsoft have that others don't do well is the use of a stylus. Writing and drawing diagrams is a lot easier with a stylus than with a finger. I could see there being interest in a 14" version of a HP iSlate in education circles but the trend with Windows tablets is towards smaller screens and the biggest tablet HP do now is 12". I know teachers with tablet laptops who are hanging on to their old ones just for the screen size.

The other path that Microsoft might choose is the Courier that was leaked to the Internet about 6 months ago - . As touch screen technology goes this is as good as anything I have seen and it has caused a fair bit of excitement among teachers I have discussed it with. Unfortunately all we have seen so far is the concept animations with no definite information of when or indeed if it will be developed commercially. Not as flexible or powerful as Windows 7 but better suited to a smaller touchscreen device. One to watch out for.

So where are we heading? I don't think there will be a single device that will meet all our classroom needs. I don't think students having laptops for use in every class is a particularly useful or sustainable model in the exam driven education system we work in at the moment. I think we are indeed going to see a plethora of mobile devices coming on the market that will find a place in our classrooms of which the iPad looks the most interesting at the moment.

From a network point of view all these devices may well need IP addresses as it is easy to see they will all have use for internet access of some sort. So if every student has some combination of phone, laptop and some other tablet device then you may need to be able to have 2-3 IP addresses per student and teacher in your school. There are a number of teachers in my school already using 2 IP addresses (laptop & phone). Being a boarding school we are already seeing a lot of devices using IP addresses including laptops, phones, Nintendo and Sony handheld gaming devices, iPods etc. I expect this to increase significantly in the next few months as we have recently made internet access available to students via wireless access points throughout most of the classroom and recreation areas of the school. When Abeline University introduced their iPod/iPhone per student policy they had to hugely increase the number of access points they provided. Now in a second level school we aren't going to need to provide Internet access to 200 students in one room very often, if ever. However at the moment I am getting away with 1 wireless access point for every 3 classrooms. I'll need to consider increasing the number of access points, not to increase the areas covered but to increase the bandwidth to areas already covered. So I am expecting to be using circa 500 IP addresses next September and have plans in place to support twice that number.

All this planning assumes of course that the school will be providing internet access either through our own lines or through the NCTE/HEAnet line. How long will it be I wonder before everyone will be subscribed to their own internet access independent of the school network. Already we are seeing students here with 3G dongles like this one from 3. Unrestricted access to the Internet is not something we are keen on in my school for all the obvious reasons but as the cost comes down I'm not sure how we can easily turn the tide on this trend. Fun fun fun.

So interesting times ahead on the mobile front and I'm looking forward to seeing the various models of tablet devices finding their niche in the school and just how many IP addresses we are dishing out on the network.