Next Generation Learning

Scrolling through my feeds I came across this video which I was hoping might back up my thoughts from my last post.

After watching it, it doesn’t go quite far enough for me as there are still views of children sitting in rows, idle computers and the overuse of interactive whiteboards. However, there are plenty of parallels I can make with my own thoughts. It will certainly provoke discussion within our staff as to how it relates to our school.

This is just a snapshot of the work being done in the UK where the government is backing Next Generation Learning to

inspire children’s learning with better technology in schools and at home.

Plenty of other great reading and viewing there.

#21stcentury #eLearning #nextgeneration

eLearning Expectations?

Within our school leadership team we have been having a few interesting conversations as of late centered around the current immersion of elearning at our school. Not the run of the mill use of technology, but the really powerful higher order or  integrated project based use. Our discussions have caused us to look honestly at our school wide practice and realise that a cohesive understanding of our beliefs and to a certain extent our expectations of technology usage and the direct planning of, needs to be looked at and discussed.

We have excellent access to ICTs throughout the school. Our digital classes are highly immersive environments. We have sent teachers to iSchools, Apple Bus Tours and ULearn conferences consistently over the last 4 or  5 years. We have a handful of staff who also participated in the ICTPD cluster we lead from 2001-3. While PD in elearning has not been a priority for a number of years, we have maintained fortnightly iTips sessions throughout the year.

So why is it that when walking through some classrooms, computers are wearing out their screensavers? Why in some classes is there not a sustained use of technology throughout the day? I will be the first to admit that there are some parts of learning that are simple best done in a blended approach or traditional ways with no use of technology. However, for me this is still not a valid reason for having times throughout the day when technology is not being used, apart from of course those whole class teaching/discussion situations. The concept of the 21st Century classroom and learning removes that traditional approach where all students are involved in the same learning at the same time. A multidimensional approach to facilitating learning allows the teacher to orchestrate learning that sees different ‘packages’ of learning, for want of a better word, happening simultaneously. Why can’t a group of students being researching and creating knowledge digitally while others are working with the teacher in numeracy. Why can’t students be blogging while others are completing art or following up their numeracy with an activity or game? At the very least, if all students are, for example, working on their written language, why isn’t there one student on each computer completing this digitally? When you complete handwriting, or should that be, if you complete handwriting, why are there not students practicing their typing on the computers? Is one not the digital equivalent of the other?

Does this interpretation of the 21st Century learning environment, that simultaneous multidisciplinary approach to facilitating learning, mean relearning classroom management strategies? Taking a whole new approach to planning and implementation? Modeling and facilitating independence, self-management and thinking in students? Yes to all. Unquestionably.

So am I actually talking about elearning expectations here? Is it best looked at as 21st Century learning environments? Do we need PD in and/or develop a school wide vision/guidelines/expectations in what learning looks like in our 21st Century classrooms? Is that being too prescriptive? Our school already has assessment guidelines, describing clearly what assessments are required and why, we have an AtoL booklet that describes what formative teaching looks like in our classrooms and the learning language we will hear. Is it time for 21st Century learning expectations, of which elearning becomes a strand, intertwined with a formative approach and other skills and competencies? Is that any different from unpacking and implementing the NZ Curriculum?

As a side thought this is where I have problems with the way that some learning, such as numeracy, is demonstrated and described as best practice and what you should see when numeracy is happening in a classroom. I really bothers me that the ideal model of numeracy teaching sees all students being ‘numerate’ at the same time. To me this leads to a poor use of elearning where students use the technology for computer directed instruction, completing drill and practice activities or ‘games’ that are ultimately controlled by the computer. I don’t want this. I want my students being innovative, creating their own knowledge and sharing it with others.  Don’t get me wrong, I value numeracy very highly, but simply don’t agree with they way I have interpreted the perceived numeracy programme model classroom.

Another bug bear I have at the moment is with the one off use of an application or tool. While it is OK to try out something new, such as a new Web 2.0 site, how often are these tried but not sustained over a long period of time to really embed a deep learning intention or big concept? This thought was backed up by a statistic I recently read that stated that 60% of Twitter users quit within the first month of signing up. Do we jump on band wagons too quickly?

I think it is the sustained use of a technology or software that really makes us understand how it best can be integrated. I have always held the belief that a core number of applications for the students is best. It allows them and the teacher to become really proficient in their use, building a skill capacity to a high, independent level over a number of years. In my experience, when students are given the choice about how they will present and share their learning and new knowledge digitally, they always choose the tools they are most familiar with and enjoy using. While once this frustrated me as they chose not to use that really cool Web 2.0 tool I had given them a snapshot of the week before, they are happy, engaged, being successful and creating. I guess that is what we mean at our school when we state that the use of ICTs is normalised. It is part of everyday learning and how our students learn not a showcase of the latest and greatest.

So what am I trying to say here? As usual I have asked a lot of questions and provided few answers.

I believe elearning is a vital component in the 21st Century classroom. I have championed the idea that the effective use of ICTs provides the catalyst for teachers to change from traditional models of teaching. I look back over the years and see how professional development has moved away from the skill based technology first->pedagogy second model to the elearning pedagogy first->technology second model. That is the way I interpret the difference between ICT and elearning. ICT is about technology, elearning is about learning in new and different ways.

Will having a document describing elearning expectations really promote change? It may well do but only on a surface level, but for a deeper use rich in effective pedagogy it is that concept of the 21st Century learning environment that really needs addressing.

#eLearning #21stcentury #education #expectations #pedagogy

Why Google Apps?

So the question posed has been why? Why did we need to change our system over to Google? This goes well beyond email (Gmail), which is the only App we have currently implemented across the school, and I would like to think the move sets us up to participate more collaboratively and more effectively together.

I guess the big picture view for me is of the changing nature of knowledge. Traditionally we often held on tightly to any knowledge we had, keeping it to ourselves and maybe sharing it with others on occasion. When we did share, others filed the photocopy away, or watched the movie but gave no feedback.

The notion that knowledge belongs to someone is all a bit bizarre really and thankfully evidence and trends show that knowledge assumes a greater force when it is shared, discussed and built on. Wikipedia of course is the classic modern example. I am certainly not alone in thinking this and perhaps the best known explanation I know of can be found in this clip by Charles Leadbetter.

Other background thinking and recognition of other trends comes in the way of the Horizon Reports, released each year in a variety of formats. The reports are:

an ongoing research project that seeks to identify and describe emerging technologies likely to have a large impact on teaching, learning, research, or creative expression within education around the globe. practical models as well as access to more detailed information.

The recently released 2009 Horizon Report K-12 describes Collaborative Environments:

Collaborative environments are virtual workplaces where students and teachers can communicate, share information, and work together. A growing emphasis on collaboration in education — and an increasing recognition that collaboration is the norm in many modern workplaces — has led more teachers to seek tools to facilitate group interaction and teamwork in their classes. Online spaces designed to support groups of students working together take many forms…

The report suggests collaborative environments have a time-to-adoption horizon of one year or less. If we also look at the 2008 and 2009 Horizon Reports including the 2008 Australia and NZ Edition Horizons Report, they also describe cloud computing, collaboration webs, collective intelligence which all describes the ability to create, share and collaborate online.

So really the answers as to why we have changed is really me standing back and looking at the big picture of what not only the school administrative systems might look like in the next couple of years, but more importantly one of the ways the students will be actively learning.

While I can see quite clearly how this will look and develop, I have the advantage of having used this environment for the past few years, Gmail since its conception in 2004. I must always keep this in the back of my mind when planning and strategically implementing the Apps with the staff. Already staff are seeing the potential benefits and I can’t wait for the momentum to keep building.

#GoogleDocs #GoogleApps #google #gmail #HorizonsReport

More Gmailed

We are about four weeks into our school wide move to Google apps and the move is still seemingly smooth.

One minor complaint has been the lack of an alert sound when new mail arrives, as one would get when using a mail client such as Mail. A quick web search solved this problem and by installing Google Notifier, not only do you get a new email alert sound, but a small window opens to inform you who it is from and a gives you a preview of the message. It is actually very good if you are sitting and working at your computer, but if you are like me and most of your day is spent in the classroom with students it serves little purpose… However, it also allows you to set your default email client as Gmail which is a neat feature so that clicking on an email link opens a new web-based Gmail.

The other issue I am trying to solve is around the scan to email function on our Konica Minolta copier. This was an oversight by me and it wasn’t until after our switch and people wanted to scan items that the problem arose. So I spent an hour trying to problem solve this today, religiously following the manual step by step with no luck. I will try the help desk tomorrow.  A little frustrating as I though I had thought of every angle. While it is possible to scan to our server via FTP, scanning to email is the preferred option. Any ideas on how to get this working successfully would be great!

Finally, last week we had one of our iTips PD sessions on Gmail. iTips are our main form of elearning professional development and are optional short burst of learning after school for about 45 minutes. About half the staff attended, some coming with an open mind, willing to be sold the Gmail concept. Most left happy, especially after we had imported their existing Address Book (using A to G) and when they understood the whole Google Gears offline access, filtering and labelling of emails and the chat/video chat functions. Some of the Labs projects also opened up a whole new world of possibilities.

However, some still ask, “So why is Gmail better?” or, “Why did we need to change?”

I will try and cover this more comprehensively in my next post.

#Chat #iTips #Labs #GoogleApps #Gears #google #gmail

GMailed

The past couple of weeks has brought about some major changes to way we are administering our email and calendering systems within our school. We have taken the step to switch our email over from being administered on our own server to the convenience and power of the mighty Google.

The switch happened seamlessly, only requiring a phone call to Inspire to change our MX records to point to Google not to our school’s server. Everything else was completed online, and once Inspire flicked the switch over our Gmail was up and running within a couple of hours once the domain name change had propagated around the globe. After Google had authenticated us as an educational institute, which took about 10 days, we were upgraded to the Education Edition and now have add free services, more comprehensive admin features and the ability to create and manage 100’s of users, all for zero cost. It is very easy to administer the services and like any Google product, there are discussion forums on any conceivable problem you may encounter.

The change has meant some new learning for staff as they have shifted from using Apple’s Mail, to the web based Gmail. Email addresses have remained the same. Those already using Gmail welcomed the transition but others, as with anything new, questioned the need to do it. Managing this change is always the key to making it work.

So why did we change? Here are some of the key reasons.

  1. Google apps becomes a one stop shop for school admin. Our existing set-up was a mish mash of systems that meant going to a variety of places to view calendars, check email, shared contacts, chat, video conference, book facilities etc. Google apps gives us that under one log in.
  2. Anytime anywhere access. While previously available, the ease of the new system makes the old method seem very clunky.
  3. Collaboration! Collaboration! Collaboration! The Google Apps package is built around the notion of sharing, participation and working together.

The one disappointment I have with the Google Apps package is that Google Reader is not part of the service. To access this, you needs to have a separate Google account. Having Reader as part of this service would really make it the hub for all your professional learning network needs. I would also love to see Google’s Custom Search function put in the package.

The biggest challenge I can see is the dependence of staff on using Word or Pages to create documents and then emailing them as attachments to the recipients. While there will always be a need to do this, a huge amount of this documentation can more simple be shared with users. This is a huge change in thinking and approaching how information is shared and worked on among multiple users. Something to keep modeling throughout the school.

#GoogleDocs #Chat #GoogleApps #docs #google #gmail #sites #Contacts #Calendar