Cybersafety websites for parents, teachers and students

Last week I attended a Cybersafety presentation aimed at parents. I went along mainly to see the message that was being presented to the parents who attended from our school. I wasn’t expecting to learn too much myself as I have always seen myself as a very cyber smart parent who has taught my two children, now 14 and 16, how to be responsible digital citizens. While I heard much that I have done for years, the presenter, Tony Richards from IT Made Simple in Australia, hammered home a few points that made me think.

What I appreciated most was his promise of a wealth of resources he would send us the following week. True to his word, this list of resources just landed in my inbox and I thought it appropriate to share with you on this blog. If nothing else it’s a good place for me to store them for future reference. There are probably too many resources, as Tony said himself, but what teacher doesn’t like a truck load of resources to browse?!?

Hello,

I hope you found the session you attended the other week informative. Please feel free to pass on these links to others that were not able to attend.

Remember to talk with your children and ensure they make smart decisions online.

If I can provide any assistance feel free to contact me, I also provide sessions for community organisations and businesses around social media and online issues.

Tony

The following are some of the sites I spoke about or alluded too during the presentation. Please keep this email somewhere safe to return to at a later date.

Sites – General Information and Help

Google Online Safety – http://www.google.com/goodtoknow/online-safety/
Australian Government – http://www.netalert.gov.au/home.html
NZ NetSafe – http://www.netsafe.org.nz/keeping_safe.php?sectionID=parents
Childnet International – http://www.childnet-int.org/
ThinkuKnow – http://www.thinkuknow.com/
Scams Little Black Book – http://www.scamwatch.gov.au/content/index.phtml/itemId/726050

Cyber Safety Sites for Children and Parents
Parents – http://www.cybersmart.gov.au/en/Parents.aspx
Hectors World -http://www.cybersmart.gov.au/Young%20Kids/Hectors%20World.aspx (A site for young children to explore online safety.)
CyberQuoll –Cybersmart – Have fun (This site is for primary aged students.)
CyberNetrix – http://www.cybersmart.gov.au/cybernetrix/index.html (A site for teenagers to learn how to be smart online.)
Super Clubs Plus – http://www.superclubsplus.com.au/ (An environment for students to learn about online social networks)

CyberBullying
Facts about Cyberbullying – http://www.familysafecomputers.org/bullying.htm
Tips on how to respond – Parents – http://www.adl.org/education/cyberbullying/tips.asp#family
What is CYBERBULLYING? – http://www.stopcyberbullying.org/what_is_cyberbullying_exactly.html
Types of Cyberbullies – http://www.stopcyberbullying.org/educators/howdoyouhandleacyberbully.html
Quick Guide to Responding – Parents – http://www.stopcyberbullying.org/parents/guide.html
Texting Glossary features thousands of relevant and up to date terms. – http://www.dtxtrapp.com/glossary.htm

Family Safety resources
Google Family Safety – http://www.google.com.au/familysafety/
FaceBoook Family Safety – https://www.facebook.com/safety
Scams and Tricks via FaceBook – what to avoid – http://facecrooks.com/
Online Privacy – http://www.microsoft.com/security/onlineprivacy/reputation.aspx#findout
Google Jargon Busters – http://www.google.com/goodtoknow/jargon/#cookie
Australian Government – Easy guide – http://www.dbcde.gov.au/easyguide/social_networking
Google Privacy Tools – http://www.google.com/intl/en/privacy/tools.html
Chat Acronyms – http://www.netlingo.com/acronyms.php
Digital Reputation Management: Remove content from the web: http://www.google.com/support/webmasters/bin/answer.py?answer=164734

Surf Safely with Browsers
The Facts about Search Engines – http://www.familysafecomputers.org/searchengines.htm
Google Safe Browsing – http://www.google.com/tools/firefox/safebrowsing/
Parental Control Toolbar: Free Filtering Tool – http://www.parentalcontrolbar.org/
How to use Parental Controls on IE Explorer – http://www.ehow.com/how_2033277_use-parental-controls.html
KID-FRIENDLY SITES – http://www.bewebaware.ca/english/KidFriendlySearchEngines.aspx
Web Surfing Tips – http://www.commonsense.com/internet-safety-guide/web-surfing.php
Safety First – Internet Explorer @ How Stuff Works – http://computer.howstuffworks.com/internet-explorer-82.htm
Internet Explorer vs. Firefox: Which is Safer? – http://itmanagement.earthweb.com/secu/article.php/3698606
Safe Surfing Tips for Teens – http://kidshealth.org/teen/safety/safebasics/internet_safety.html
Google Safe Search – http://www.google.com/safesearch_help.html

Monitoring Software
The following software allows you to monitor activity on computers systems – it’s up to parents to decide on how severe they want the monitoring to be. Personally, I like to use monitoring programs that aren’t spyware, meaning they show up on the device and my kids know the program is there. I feel that monitoring solutions should be used to reinforce positive behavior without taking away a child’s privacy by spying on them without their knowledge.

SpectorSoft http://www.spectorsoft.com/
The software is extremely comprehensive and utilizes key-logging, website tracking, social media monitoring and chat/IM logging, among other useful features that can give parents a comprehensive look into their child’s computer activity.

Screen Retriever http://www.screenretriever.com/

Mobile Monitoring Services
Code9Mobile – http://www.code9mobile.com/
Mobile Spy – http://www.mobile-spy.com/
eBlaster Mobile – http://www.spectorsoft.com/home-solutions.html

Social Media
Parenting with the Digital Generation (Article) –http://mashable.com/2010/05/13/parenting-social-media/

Videos
The following sites have a range of video content that you may be interested in watching and even later watching with your child/ren if you deem it appropriate:

Interview with Andrew Fuller on Self Harm – http://vimeo.com/46672640
Common Sense Media Advice Videos – http://www.commonsensemedia.org/video/advice
PBS – Growing up online – http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/kidsonline/
Cyber Bullying – a view of this issue from the student view – great for children to watch – http://www.digizen.org/cyberbullying/fullFilm.aspx
Exposed – a view of the issue of sexting and its consequences. – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ovR3FF_6us
ThinkUKnow – make sure you know who you are talking too. – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nDBDUX7KPT0&feature=fvwrel
Megan’s Story – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DwKgg35YbC4&feature=relmfu

TalhotBlond
ABC aired an interesting documentary called “Talhotblond ” around an online chatting event that will make you think about the conversations we need to have with our children, even other adults about chatting and communicating online.
The website for the documentary can be found here:http://www.talhotblond.com/
* Please note this documentary contains adult content and language and is not suitable for children.

Online Books
Kids and Video Games
http://www.videogamesandkids.com/index.html

Student Links
20 Things I Learned Online
http://www.20thingsilearned.com/en-US

Password Bird
http://www.passwordbird.com

Protecting your PC
Lastly the following are the products I spoke about in regards to having on your computer to avoid viruses. All these products are free and do a very good job when used together, if you have Norton or McAfee or any other commercial product – please do not download the first product called AVG – as this performs the same task.

AVG – this program runs as a virus protection option and will scan email and software loaded onto your computer.
Product Information:: http://free.grisoft.com/
Download software:: http://free.grisoft.com/ww.download?prd=afe

Spybot – this program checks and removes any malicious software from your browsers, it also helps to scan common locations on your computer for items that should not be there.
Product Information:: http://www.safer-networking.org/en/index.html
Download software:: http://www.safer-networking.org/en/mirrors/index.html

AdAware – this program also checks your internet browser for malicious software.
Product Information:: http://www.lavasoftusa.com/
Download software:: http://www.download.com/Ad-Aware-2007/3000-8022_4-10045910.html?part=dl-ad-aware&subj=dl&tag=top5&cdlPid=10837062

Windows Defender
Site:http://www.microsoft.com/windows/products/winfamily/defender/default.mspx
Microsoft recently released this free tool that will do many of the functions the programs above provide – this tool is highly recommended. However please note that you must have a valid copy of windows to install this application.

The key with these tools is that you need to scan your computer based on your usage – if the internet is used a lot then scan with Spybot and AdAware every fortnight – if the internet is only used a low or moderate amount then scan once a month. if you are every concerned with anything on the computer then run a scan just to be sure. These products are designed to simply help eliminate viruses and unwanted software on your computer.

One other tool to have a look at is Norton Online Family :http://onlinefamilyinfo.norton.com/ – more information on this product can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OnlineFamily.Norton

Or check out the K9 Web Protection tool:http://www1.k9webprotection.com/

Open DNS – http://www.opendns.com/parental-controls
OpenDNS is the only Internet parental controls solution that empowers parents to manage Web access across every device that accesses the Internet on your home network. This includes phones and computers that your kids’ friends bring into the house,

Thanks for being involved and taking time to understand the environment your children are growing up in.

Regards

Tony

Tony Richards
Web. www.itmadesimple.com
Twitter. itmadesimple
Blog. http://blog.itmadesimple.com/
Podcast. http://www.edtechcrew.net

I’d like to thank Tony for the effort in compiling these resources and his presentation. While it focused on the dark side of the Internet, which was necessary in being a strong wake up call for parents who excuse themselves sometimes from responsibility of being in control of Internet usage in their house, he still took time to stress the good that children do online as well, which I tend to focus moore on here on my blog. It was well received by all who attended and if you are in Australia, I recommend getting him to your school to talk to all stakeholders – students, parents and teachers.

21st Century Fluencies

21st Century Fluency Institute from Fluency21 on Vimeo.

The 21st Century Fluency Project is an organisation dedicated to improving education. Central to their vision is their focus on the development of what Lee Crockett, seen above in the video, calls the critical skills students need in the 21st Century to succeed. The organisation has developed these 6 major Fluencies in responses to questions asked by all interested in the education of our children.

Solution Fluency – the ability to solve problems in real time
Creativity Fluency – thinking creatively and divergently in both digital and non digital environments ( a key distinction made by Crockett in the video – we are not talking only technology here; these are life long learning skills for everyone, not just tech lovers) to develop solutions to see problems
Information Fluency – Crockett here talks about the higher end of Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy – evaluating, analyzing, synthesizing, comparing/contrasting – to make sense of the information overload they experience in a Google/Wikipedia driven, media rich world
Collaboration Fluency – ability to work collaboratively ” in physical and virtual spaces with real and virtual partners” ( again not throwing out traditional forms of communication but also embracing digital forms )
Media Fluency – communicating learning not just in writing and in speech as we have been accustomed but also in multiple multimedia formats, the communication forms of the present and future.
Digital citizen – Crockett mentions ethical thinking, action, accountability, personal responsibility, resilience, risk taking, global perspectives and understanding a diverse range of cultures in a global world our current students have no choice but to be part of

Their Website goes into a bit more detail on each of the fluencies and also contains links to a range of resources to support their philosophy as well as regular blog posts on specific topics regarding 21st Century Learning ( they even linked to one of my posts in April!)

These are big concepts and challenge a lot of teachers today. For school administrators and experienced teachers currently involved in leadership, these are ideas that were never really explored back in our training days or years in the classroom. Some of these ideas may be beyond our comprehension or comfort level. What I am excited about with what Crockett is “selling” in this video is that the 21st Century Fluency Project’s solution goes far beyond your standard Professional Development session in  a way that I think will make a big impact in schools still on the leaning curve towards true 21st Century Learning.The 21st Century Fluency Institutes Crockett describes here is based on workshops that are follwed up with months of collaborative support freom their team to embed their innovative practices into your school’s way of being. It is far more beneficial to a day of keynotes and hour long workshops that we come back from excited but then lose the impact of as time goes by and we are disconnected from the experts. Its a great PD model that I hope is adopted by others. Watch the video, visit their website and hopefully get engaged and involved. Our students deserve the chance.

For Australian readers, here is a link to information about the workshops being run in Australia in February/March next year

Technology – Providing Incredible Opportunities for Students whether we want it to or not

We hear bad stories about young people using technology, especially the internet, at a monotonous regularity. YouTube is awash with ridiculous copycat videos of boys putting themselves in danger. Forums are flooded with a steady stream of insults and rumours from teenagers protected by anonymity. As teachers, we are constantly dealing with reports of cyberbullying on Facebook and Twitter we have no personal control over. If you believed the media shock jocks, every kid on the internet is either an idiot or in great peril.

But I want to tell a different story starring my daughter, her best friend and a small group of friends ( including my opportunistic son!). This is a completely different story that highlights the amazing opportunities that today’s available technology offers our students. It’s also a story about how, if given the freedom, children will take what we ‘make’ them do at school and take it to a whole new level that the limited minds of us teachers don’t even plan for. It explains why student led learning can be a success if we don’t restrict our students from going beyond our stated objectives. It shows how true engagement doesn’t need a teacher or a classroom for children to achieve great things and how technology can allow young students follow their dreams without the restrictions we had in the past.

It begins with a simple project for my daughter’s Studio Arts class. They were asked to create a short Horror film for their major term project. That was the only requirement. My daughter and her friends, from this point on known as BatFilms Productions. ( long story I won’t go into – suffice to say I am listed as ‘Lucius Fox’ in my daughter’s address book)  could have just coasted through the class this term, like apparently some students did, cobbled together a few clips on the computers at school and handed in a bland DVD in a plastic bag to get their ‘At Standard’ mark and go back to studying for their Maths and English exams. That’s all that was expected of them – a video.

Instead, this is what happened. The formed BatFilms Productions. ‘Best Friend’ (who in the 10 years she’s been coming to our house I have never heard utter more than one sentence at a time yet was the star of the movie)  set herself the task of writing the script for the 9 minute ‘epic’. ( the script does not get handed in to the teacher). My daughter started work on the Film Poster and DVD sleeve cover ( also not expected) using her favourite app on her iPad, ArtRage. She is also a budding artist, having attended an after school art class since she was 8. She paints with both natural media and digitally on the iPad, all in her spare time, completing works of art for family members on a regular basis.

Over the Term 3 holidays, while most of their class mates were hanging out at resorts, shopping centres or in front of the TV, Batfilms Productions got together on a Thursday for an all day, all night rehearsal and filming marathon – during the holidays! My kids came home just before midnight, exhausted but excited. “School work” was the highlight of their holiday – and my son wasn’t even part of the assignment. He just went to be the cameraman but is now an official member of Batfilms Productions. Of course by this stage, it had moved beyond school work. A passion had been ignited and it just continued to grow.

While Daughter, who inherited her father’s tech geek gene, got to work on the film editing and production, piecing together hundreds of clips of outakes, bloopers and useable video, Best Friend started thinking about publicity. She set up a YouTube Channel ( not part of the assignment and not connected to the school component at all) and a Twitter Account (again, not part of the school work). Best Friend’s Cousin, also a member of BatFilms, started working on the Film Trailer on iMovie ( also not part of the assignment requirement) and Daughter decided to add a professional edge to the opening credits using another iPad app Intro Designer (she upgraded to the full paid version to get the Horror Movie template ). When she found out about Bsst Friend’s YouTube/Twitter idea, she decided to use her Weebly account to create a Website to advertise Batfilms and their future plans.

Back at school, they discovered their clips weren’t opening on the school computers. Daughter calmly announced she would take them home and convert them ALL on her MacBook using Handbrake. When they viewed the converted files back at school, they noticed pixelation in full screen. They could have accepted mediocrity – at this stage some students hadn’t even filmed their scenes yet – but instead Daughter took them all home again and re did the whole conversion process at a higher resolution setting.

After all that not for extra credit effort, the film was finally completed. It was only now that I found out all they had to hand in was a video. Everything else was their own choice. They handed the movie in completed but all the teacher got was the DVD. What they kept for themselves was a film trailer, extras sections with bloopers and outtakes, a professional standard DVD sleeve and Film poster, and the potential for a real audience through their YouTube Channel, Twitter account and website, none of which would have been encouraged by the school.

What also came out of this was the genesis of a film company with plans made by a group of teenagers to create  more films together. Best Friend already has a script on its way for Movie number two, the completed movie Midnight Man is on Youtube, the Twitter account @BatFilms has started attracting followers and the website tells the story of the fledgling crew and their plans.

The movie itself is pretty good for a bunch of teenagers’ first effort. Me being me, I offered some constructive criticism, suggesting it needed some background music for mood. Daughter said they’d do that for the NEXT movie. Yep, they’re more interested in improving the next movie, the one they have DECIDED to do in their own time, no the one for school.

So what is the message of this story for me as a teacher? Well, there’s several.

  1. Our students are capable of so much more than what we expect of them. They’re not really motivated by grades; they are motivated by engagement. Their reports will probably have the same At Standard score as the slackers who are still working on their films. But BatFilms don’t care. They’re working on their next movie.
  2. As teachers, we need to broaden our learning outcomes and assessment. All these students will be assessed on is the video under the umbrella of Studio Arts. But what else have they demonstrated? Collaboration, entrepreneurism, initiative, teamwork, commitment to excellence, independent learning, communication skills, visual arts, planning, time management and preparation. One of the strengths of Primary School is that your teacher takes you for all classes so she can possibly credit you for all this. Secondary school teachers with their single subject focus may only focus on their narrow subject based outcome. We need to credit our students for unintended outcomes.
  3. We need to know our students’ passions and interests and give them opportunities to grow. The Studio Arts teacher should let the Drama Teacher, the English teacher, the Art Teacher,  the History teacher, the ICT teacher all know what these students are willing to do. Given the opportunity, these kids would put together a great interpretation of Romeo and Juliet or a World War Two battle through the sheer engagement of digital media, showing more understanding than their standard written essay. What they got out of this experience will not show up in a two hour exam.
  4. ICT provides opportunities that us teachers never had when we were students at school. We are limited by our own experiences. We shouldn’t limit our students’ possibilities. Instead of dwelling on the fake death reports and insults on Twitter, explore the possibilities of connecting to promote creative pursuits and worthy causes at school. Use blogs and websites and Youtube. Which leads me to ….
  5. Trust that students can use the Web constructively and responsibly. BatFilms is not a secret project. They are loving that the geeky father is promoting them on his longwinded, highbrow educational blog. Daughter told me straight away that Best Friend had set up the Twitter account. All the parents were asked by the children for permission to set up the YouTube Channel and Twitter. I’m following @Batfilms and Daughter has already blocked a follower who was promoting inappropriate material for them. Daughter is already a Weebly veteran, having set up a website Gleje Comics, displaying her comic strips series and soon to be released animations. She registered her site on the Comic Book Archive to promote it and has followers. ( She’s aiming for a career in computer animation.) They are responsible kids whose only interest in the internet is promoting their talents. Give students the opportunity to be responsible and creative and they will become good digital citizens.

So let’s not limit our students. Let them explore every possibility and bring their own goals along. If we are not getting the best out of them the traditional way, we need to try it their way. Trust technology to open up those possibilities. They’ll do it without you anyway. BatFilms did. Wouldn’t we prefer our students to put in all that effort and be rewarded and acknowledged for it at school as well as outside? Wouldn’t it be better to tap into that energy and enthusiasm and be there to add our experience and knowledge to the mix to improve the experience? I’m reading enough about how we don’t need schools or teachers as we know them anymore. We do. Students still need us. But we need to meet them in their world and support them there. And for those who want to dwell on the students who didn’t make the same effort to argue against the engagement factor of technology, go ahead. I’ll focus on the positive story of BatFilms Productions.

P.S. Please check out the video. They’d like an audience. And Daughter’s comics too.

The iPad – What it should and shouldn’t be for Education

This blog originally started as a reflection journal as I begun a pilot program for using iPads at my school. My early posts ( check January and February posts ) were discussions of the pros and cons of iPads. As the year has gone by and I have more time to research, read other iPad articles and experiment more with apps and with the students using them more frequently, I’ve had time to reflect on what iPads are offering schools. I’m not going to debate what model of iPad program to commit to – 1:1 or shared. I’m simply going to concentrate on what I think schools should consider before committing to iPads at all.

What you should use iPads for in schools

Multimedia content creation
I am so sick of the tech press misrepresenting the iPad purely as a content consumption device and complaining that it is not for content creation. I think they confuse content creation with publishing their articles with a traditional keyboard. On the contrary, the main reason schools should invest in iPads IS Content Creation. I’m not talking about Word or PowerPoint documents. That’s 20th century publishing that was meant for office workers and businessmen in the first place, not school kids.

What the iPad offers to children is the ability to capture, develop and publish their learning in the creative, engaging, multimedia way they experience the world. Traditional keyboard/writing based computing held back younger students and limited older ones. Now they can take pictures, record their voices (VoiceThread,GarageBand), create videos and slideshows(iMovie, SonicPics), annotate diagrams (Skitch), explain and record their learning in screencasts (Explain Everything, Doceri, Showme), use animated puppets to tell stories (Sock Puppets, Toontastic), create comic strips or whole comic books ( Comic Life, Strip Designer) combine text,freehand drawing and pictures in mind maps (Popplet, iMindmap) and publish interactive, multimedia books that others can read on their iPads (BookCreator,Creative Book Builder). All from the one device without having to connect any other tech up with wires and search for the files. The iPad is the ultimate one stop shop for student content creation that goes well beyond what they were capable of achieving easily just a couple of years ago. The beauty of all these apps is that they are multipurpose apps. They can be used in all curriculum areas and their uses are only limited by your or your student imagination. A Word Document could only do so much. Multimedia apps can allow for so much more scope for learning.

Portable, anywhere, interactive collaborative learning
The beauty of the iPad is its portability and use anywhere capability. Desktops anchor you to a desk and isolate you from a group. Laptops are still too cumbersome to carry around and the built in cameras and microphones are too restrictive. The iPad frees you up to use it anywhere any time. On a field trip/excursion? Take the iPad along with you and do all your work live and instantly. Take pictures and record a commentary for an instant report. Record footage of your physical activity in PE classes and play back for instant feedback on your performance, in slow motion with iMotion HD. Create a documentary on the spot with the video camera and iMovie. With wifi available, report live from an event with FaceTime or Skype. The physical makeup of the iPad makes for a more social sharing environment that isn’t as easy or effective in a lab of desktops or the one way screens of laptops. The tactile nature of the touchscreen brings students together and the multimedia capabilities can be shared by a group.

Social, interactive Reading the “digital literacy way”
One of the best activities on an iPad is reading, but not in the traditional sense. If you just want to read, get a book from the library – it’s cheaper. Reading on a iPad is a much richer experience and can enhance the educational experience in schools. Reading in iBooks allows you to highlight passages and record annotated notes which are then stored and organized in a dedicated bookmarked section and look up definitions without flicking through a dictionary. Using PDF annotation apps you can do limitless note taking without running out of space on the page.

While you can do the same on a traditional computing device, the use of social bookmarking tools and curation website bookmarklets make collaborative reading a far easier proposition, simply because of the book like experience sitting with an iPad gives you. Having students sitting in a group using Diigo’s shared annotation tools allows for both real conversation and tech based note sharing that can be referred to later. It also allows for collaboration with students outside the group which widens the community of learners you can work with. Individually, finding sites to share with others and then posting them on Scoop-it, Diigo, Edmodo, sharing via Twitter or other social media sites via bookmarklets, share buttons or through apps like Zite and Flipboard just seems more natural on a touchscreen tablet rather than on a mouse driven computer.

Other

Check out my other posts on Writing, Maths and Literacy ( in the Categories section on the right) for my other uses for iPads – I don’t want to repeat myself too much. Suffice to say, the iPad has the potential to change the way we learn and teach if we take the time to research and investigate what others are doing. I have curated a wealth of resources for you to use on my Scoopit page linked at the top of my blog page as well as in my Diigo Bookmarks under the iPad tag also accessible above.

The iPad, however, is not perfect by any means and does have limitations to consider. There are some things it can’t do at all and many things that are best done on other devices. Read on for what they shouldn’t be used for in schools.

What you shouldn’t use iPads for in schools

This list is more about poor decision making about getting iPads rather than the iPad’s lack of ability to manage the task. It’s also more applicable to a school setting ( i use my iPad for a lot of things completely un-school related, which shouldn’t be a factor for getting them for school) and why you are choosing iPads over other computing options. If it can’t do the task as effectively as a “computer”, if it isn’t going to be an improvement and make a profound change to how you use tech in education, if it isn’t going to be any different to what you are already doing with desktop or laptop computers, then consider whether the iPad is really what you want.

Traditional word processing
Don’t get me wrong. I use my iPad for about 90% of the word processing I do. Most of this blog has been published using my iPad. Having said that, if you’re going to jump on the bandwagon and buy iPads and then complain about not having Microsoft Office on it, or that Pages messes up the formatting of the Word Document you just imported or you don’t like the touchscreen keyboard for typing, you haven’t thought about why you want iPads. If all your students do with tech at school is publish stories and reports in Word, then you will find your iPads being underutilized.

Replacing books just for reading or lightening the load in your students’ backpacks.
Personally, I read a lot on my iPad. But, as I outlined in the “What you should use iPads for in Schools” section of this post, I don’t just read with my iPad. Once again, it is a wasted opportunity for changing the way you foster learning in your school if your main reason for buying iPads is to replace books/textbooks with ebooks and PDF scans of textbooks. This does not enhance learning. This does not change the way you teach. Just reading books on an iPad makes no difference to education. It may be advertised to consumers as a great e-reader, and as a way of carrying around a truckload of books to read on a vacation it’s great, but if schools are going to invest vast amounts of money on iPads only to fill them up with ebook versions of novels or PDF copies of chapters from their Maths text books so our children can prop them up on a table while they complete Exercise 7A of the Quadratic Equations Chapter in their exercise books, we’ve missed the point.

If you have invested a lot of time, effort and money in Web 2.0 tools or educational management systems.
While there is much press about the demise of Flash support for mobile devices ( Android included ) and the rise of HTML5 sites, the vast majority of educational sites on the Internet are Flash or Java based. While many are free, educational versions of these sites usually cost a fair investment to use with large numbers of children. iPads don’t support these tools well. Yes, there are workaround solution in the form of dedicated iPad browsers like Puffin and Photon that use server based connections to provide useable Flash experience on iPads, but they are serviceable at best and inadequate or unusable at worst. While I have no experience of it, Moodle is widely used in schools as well and does not play well with iPads. Interactive whiteboard software like Promethean’s Activinspire doesn’t have an iPad version so you can’t create or edit flip charts on iPads with their software. So if your school has invested heavily in Web 2.0 tool licenses, Moodle like systems or have spent the last 5 years training you to make interactive whiteboard flip charts, consider the wisdom of moving to an iPad only set up.

Are you a Google Apps for Education school?
This is open for debate as I have visited schools that are 1:1 iPad schools who use Google Apps. From my experience, the user experience is not good enough. Maybe for word processing it’s functional but the Google spreadsheet experience is woefully inadequate on the iPad. If you have made a big investment in Google Apps, I’d stick with netbooks/laptops.

Website design/blog management
Web site building tools on the web like Weebly or Wix are useable and most of the publishing work of blogs can be done on an iPad. However,if you have an ICT course that is heavily involved in website building or you need to edit graphic elements or widget components of blogs, iPads don’t handle the task completely and you’ll need to stick with traditional computing.

Dedicated specialist software compatibility
Without listing them, there is obviously a huge range of software for specific purposes that aren’t supported and are unlikely to ever be supported on the iPad. While it may seem bleeding obvious, schools need to take this into account before dedicating their entire budget to a 1:1 iPad program.

Final thoughts
I started the year thinking the iPad was the one stop solution. I’ve come to believe now that a multi device option is preferable. 1:1 iPads would be great in an ideal world but the financial reality for school with substantial investments in other tech already doesn’t make it practical for a complete change. My school already has a lot of laptops and desktops in use. They are used for many valid purposes such as those listed above. It’s not reasonable to think we would replace all our resources with just iPads when there are good things already being done with them. So we are going down the horses for courses route. More iPads are likely to be purchased next year and used for all he great multimedia purposes outlined. Web tools, research, Flash and Java Ed sites, word processing, blogging, compatibility issues will continue to be addressed with our computers. I’m starting to think it’s the best of both worlds.

But what do you think? Have I under or oversold the iPad? Are there compelling reasons for iPads in education I’ve left out ? Are there other reasons for not committing to them? Share your thoughts. This is far from an exhaustive post. Join the conversation.

Who should we consult about technology in our schools?

Thanks to edtech times for this infographic
From their website:

Nonprofit Project Tomorrow aims to make student voices heard in education. Speak Up, an initiative of Project Tomorrow, surveyed 294,399 students, 35,525 teachers, 42,267 parents, and others in fall 2010 to determine the benefits of certain types and uses of technology for teaching and learning. The results are depicted in the infographic below.

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I think we can learn a lot from the results of this very extensive survey. On reflection, I wonder why we do things so differently to the rest of our society. Politicians, businesses, the entertainment industry, sports organisations spend up big on researching the stakeholders in their product or idea or policy. Education departments and schools too often make the mistake of deciding what is best without asking the real stakeholders in our system what their opinions are, often to the detriment of what follows.

What I really appreciate about this survey is that it focuses on ALL THREE ( I’m not including the bureaucratic side ) interested parties in education – Students, Parents and Teachers. While I haven’t seen the actual survey, this infographic suggests that in-depth questioning took place and the results encourage a lot of thinking about how we should go forward in planning for technology in schools. It also raises questions about what we as educators consider important as opposed to the parents and students think. Finally, it would also be interesting to conduct this same survey two years on in 2012, when the use of technology has accelerated so much, to see if there has been significant change in perceptions.

Student Responses
I found it interesting that the factors that scored highest involved independent activity. Students find tech beneficial in organizing their times, managing their own learning and working at their own pace. With the push towards student centered learning, this shows technology can contribute to the success of this learning strategy in the eyes of those that count – the students. It’s also an eye opener that well less than half of the students surveyed find tech as motivating or the key to easy success. This is a cautionary tale for those tech advocates ( me included ) who think that iPads, 1:1 programs and web tools are the answer to all engagement and learning problems. We need to balance our thirst for tech spending with reflection on multiple intelligences and learning styles research that stresses students have different preferences. Technology is not necessarily the answer for all students.

Another observation that comes to mind is that we have work to do on some of the skills we want to ingrain in the learning behaviors of our students. Collaboration and asking questions are important but the survey suggests our students are not necessarily using tech effectively for that, despite all the great collaborative, sharing, networking tools at our disposal. It brings home the point that its not enough to introduce Edmodo, Diigo, blogging and the like to the students and expect it to just happen. We have to work hard to show them how it will improve their learning. Obviously, we also need to do the same for teachers, parents and leadership as well.

Parents responses
I was particularly interested in this section of the infographic. Parents are often the last people we consult when we make decisions. They are often the first we get concerned about though when they start to question our decisions or pedagogies. Maybe we should communicate more with them and find out what they want. Then we can address the issues they raise and educate them in what we believe from our training and experience is best for their children.

What interested me most from the survey results in the infographic was the motivation behind the parent responses to what can help them assist their children in their learning. They want access to curriculum materials so they can support their kids. How often have we heard ” I can’t help my son because you do it differently to when I was at school.”? Technology today gives us the perfect tool for sharing what we do in school with the parents. Blogs, social networking sites, video lessons ( only 22% in this survey – before the flipping classroom boom – but it would be interesting to find out what the interest would be now ), online newsletters are practical ways to communicate how we teach the students in a contemporary classroom.

It’s encouraging to see such large percentages of parents wanting regular updates and viewing of children’s work. They don’t want to wait for reports or interviews or portfolios to come home at the end of term. They want technology to provide them access. This is a huge challenge for us as schools as we are not used to parents seeing the students work before its “ready”. There needs to be a shift in thinking about what this access to students work will entail. Parent and teacher education ( and students too) will be needed so there isn’t a misunderstanding of the difference between work in progress and published work. Technology has the potential to allow for real partnerships between all the stakeholders in a child’s education. From this survey parents want to be a part of it. We just need to make sure we get the balance right in the partnership.

Another fascinating tidbit from the infographic was the response to purchasing tech for students to use at school. Without knowing the demographics of the survey, it’s enlightening to see such a large percentage of parents willing to buy mobile devices for their children to use AT SCHOOL. It raises the weighty issue of BYOD ( bring your own device ) programs in schools. To me, this suggests there needs to be serious discussion between school and parents about the prospects rather than just dismissing the idea. Of course, just because parents might think it’s a great idea, doesn’t mean it is. Many parents aren’t necessarily in control of the tech use of their children and don’t understand the pitfalls of such a program. Again, it means Parent Education in responsible digital citizenship, their responsibilities and how they can support their children will be needed but if they are prepared to make the commitment the discussion needs to be had.

Teacher/Student responses
Some telling observations can be made from the results in this part of the infographic.
First, it is apparent that digital literacy is not clear to either teacher or students in some cases, particularly in analyzing, interpreting and detecting bias in media stories. It suggests we need to have a conversation about new Literacies with our teachers and why technology has an important role to play in this.

Not surprisingly, students don’t place importance on checking their sources. This is a big part of digital literacy – the more children are using the Internet for both research and presenting their findings in a public forum, the more we have to change their behavior. They are exposed to so much info in such easily accessible and unchecked ways, we have to place importance on convincing them this is important. We think of them as ‘digital natives’ but they’re still not skilled in the nuances of its use. We have to consult teachers, parents and the students themselves in this area.

One final observation here is the low percentage for producing digital media reports from both teachers and students. Again, a lot has changed in the last two years since this survey in the proliferation of web tools in schools. Nevertheless, less than one in three teachers and only 40% of students thinking digital publishing is important is interesting to consider. This is one area I would really like to investigate at the local level before making massive investments in technology.

Final thoughts
It seems to be accepted that we need to invest in technology on a large scale to prepare our students for the tech rich world they are going to be living in. Before making this investment though, it seems to me we need to make sure we consult with everyone involved. A lot of time, effort and most of all money can be wasted if we don’t find out what our clientele wants. That’s teachers, students and parents. Decision makers need to consider all stakeholders. When you look at the numbers of people involved in this survey, its hard to ignore the importance of the responses received. I would love schools to conduct a similar survey to find out what everyone involved thinks. It would allow for considered decisions to be made rather than hasty purchases. What do you think?

Can your class survive a week without Technology?

Scenario 1: The wifi and router at school is dead and needs to be replaced. Your entire grade’s work is either on the now inaccessible School server or sitting online on one of 10 Web 2.0 tools you have been using. The collaborative online discussions the students have been having on Edmodo have been cut off from the real world and our reflective blogs are now in no mans land at school. The class has bookmarked 30 top quality references to support the projects they have been researching for the last two weeks. Panic stations or alternatives are planned for?

Scenario 2: There has been a spate of “accidental” screen breakages on the shared laptops and iPads. Several stern messages have been delivered to the grade with no change in care and the screen carnage continues. The decision is made that the only choice is to ban access to all ICT to drive home that there are consequences for a lack of responsibility and accountability and that next time you’ll really be a friend by stopping the mistreating of equipment or reporting incidents to teachers. Your entire grade’s work in either on the now inaccessible server etc etc……. Hesitant to ban or necessary to have gain through pain?

Scenario 3: Being the early adopter that you are, you have spent the last 6 months trialling a truckload of Web 2.0 tools with your grade. Like 99% of the population, you don’t read the terms of use ( I certainly didn’t this time last year 😱 ). Days before all of your class are to hand in their Glogs/Prezis/SlideRockets/Xtranormal/GoAnimate/Animoto videos, you receive emails from these companies informing you that you have breached their No Under 13s policies for free accounts and all of your students work has been deleted as per the clearly stated Terms of Use and Privacy policies you didn’t read! Your entire grade’s work ………. you know the drill.

Before thinking I’ve overdramatised, I know from personal experience that these scenarios can, have and will continue to happen.

The question is – are we prepared for these scenarios to happen?

Clearly from the subject matter of this entire blog, I am an absolute advocate of technology integration into all aspects of education. I’ve been a driving force of change in ICT in all the schools I’ve worked in. In the Contemporary learning environment of the cliched “21st Century Classroom”, there is no turning back. We live in a tech driven world with a tech driven society.

But I also taught in the Luddite era of the late 80s and early 90s before the Internet existed and computers were barely accessible to most schools. The students managed to learn and learn well. Through Facebook I am now in contact with many of those former students ( they found me, I’m not a stalker😁) and they all live happy, successful lives.

When I look at the access and opportunities to tech our current students are getting in Primary (Elementary) schools and look at what they are moving to in High School ( hint: in many cases, it’s far less than we offer), I sometimes do ponder are we setting them up for disappointment in a couple of years. ( Don’t lose faith in me, I quickly come to my senses and realize we aren’t preparing them for high school; we’re preparing them for life beyond so we are doing what is right for them.) Exams are still pen and paper, tests are still pen and paper, we still have to make sure they can handle pen and paper.

So do we at times go too far with this technology push? Can our students research without Google? Can we teach them without our interactive whiteboards and flipped videos and online lesson delivery systems? Is it that bad if the students hand up hand written reports with crossed out words and bad paragraphing and have to rewrite it all over again just like we used to successfully?
Do we have to force the artistic children in our grade to make a kitschy Glogster poster when they’d rather paint, draw, cut and paste their way to their own creation? Can a kid with an infectious personality, an engaging voice and some effective hands on props and snapshots outdo the kid with the whiz bang but superficial-in-content Prezi or PowerPoint? Are we breeding a future generation who won’t cope if their boss expects them to listen to his voice and not watch his presentation? Can our students – and us – survive in a classroom without tech?

Contemporary teaching and learning – is it about the 4 Cs – Creativity, Collaboration, Communication and Critical thinking – or the 4 As – Apple, Android, Acer and ActiveInspire? Obviously, I believe in both ( maybe not the Android/Acer bit😜) but I think we do need a bit of balance in our classrooms. Sometimes it just humans. We can survive.

Why e-learning is so hard

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I found this infographic created by Lean Forward on the fine educational website Edudemic and I thought I would share it with you. The author of the post, Jeff Dunn, feels it is missing one important role, the teacher. My take on this infographic is that these are the roles the teacher takes on when implementing e-learning. Yes, the teacher does have to ensure good pedagogy is involved in any e-learning but on the other hand e-learning can be seen as THE pedagogy. Whatever way you look at it, though, it’s a fairly large workload to take on.

As Project Manager, the teacher ensures the learning is on track, supporting the students in managing their time and workflow. As well, the teacher must also instruct the students in how they become their own Project managers so they can organize themselves effectively.

As Instructional designer, the teacher is ensuring that the students have all the necessary skills and tools to complete their task. The teacher is also responsible for identifying that the task is meeting required learning outcomes. There is no point in a creative, technological presentation if it doesn’t involve quality learning and part of e-learning is striking a balance between the technology use and the learning that needs to take place.

As Multimedia designer, the teacher’s role is to support the level of creativity that is possible through using tech tools. Often students don’t know how to use the tools creatively. You only have to look at their overuse of WordArt and animated laser text in PowerPoint as evidence that software features does not equal creativity. Teachers need to provide good models of creative use of software so students produce something worthwhile. The creative use of software can enhance the learning from products created; poor use can hinder learning.

This is the key pedagogical component. As E-learning developer, the teacher needs to “control” the mix of technology and human interaction in the e-learning environment. We need to make sure we are not substituting teaching for whiz bang tech that doesn’t drive discussion and interaction on its own. The teacher and students drives the engagement and interactivity, not the technology. The tech is the instrument or tool to enhance the learning but by itself, without true engagement from the human participants, it’s just tech for tech’s sake – the too regular result of educational technology lacking purpose and control.

As Quality Assurance, the teacher role is self evident. We expect quality. The use of technology should produce quality in appearance but we need to make sure we get quality in content as well. This is sometimes overlooked as we get dazzled by the technical wizardry of a Prezi or a Glog. Bells and whistles teach us nothing if they have nothing to say.

What also comes across in this infographic is the need for each “person” to have some skill level in the tech tool being used. While I have often said that teachers don’t have to be experts to allow students to use technology, I’ve also said that students know how to use tech but don’t necessarily know what to use if for. In the experimental stages of technology learning in classes, it’s OK to let the students do the teaching of the basic “how to’s” but for truly effective e-learning teachers need to improve their knowledge. And that’s why e-learning is so hard to do well. Students can e-teach; we need teachers for students to e-learn.

Finally, this infographic highlights how much time is involved in effective e-learning. To me, this stresses the need for teachers to work as teams for e-learning to take place. This is the way teaching is moving anyway, so it’s a matter of teachers realising that e-learning is achievable if they work together. Share the planning, collaborate between grades, bear the burden of these roles together, not individually. Utilize the strengths of individual teachers for the common goal. Who is the Project Manager among you? Who can best deal with Quality Assurance? Who has the creativity in them to be Multimedia designer?

Whether you are implementing an iPad program, starting blogging at your school, using social media like Edmodo for collaboration, using Web 2.0 tools for the first time, or any other tech based initiative, teachers have to take on all these roles. And if you look at it closely, teachers have been taking on these roles well before technology came into prominence.

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School iPad Program – not as easy as I thought!

One term into the official launch of our iPad program, I thought it would be opportune to reflect on the successes, failures and everything in between. I have to admit, as a self professed, but not certified, iPad/Mac “expert” and ‘All Things Apple’ zealot, things haven’t gone as smoothly as I’d hoped. I would like to blame it all on our proxy server, but I suspect Apple has something to do with it too.

THE SETUP

I set up our iPads before Apple’s Configurator software for managing iPads came out. Regardless, the initial set up was pretty smooth. I set up the base iPad configuration on a targeted iPad and backed it up to my dedicated Mac Mini iPad machine. (Last year, when we trialled a small set of iPads with teachers, I was stuck using an Acer PC Laptop. Windows + iTunes + iPad ≠ smooth management. I strongly argued for a lone Mac to maintain my sanity in dealing with our iPad setup this year.) I set up all the apps in designated purpose built folders, created the school network connection, connected to iCloud, configured the network app FileBrowser to connect to our school network so we could access files and thought everything was ready to go.

In the main it was fine. I set up each of the remaining 34 iPads from the backed up iPad configuration using a 7 port USB hub. I know you can sync more than that with the Mac, but the 7 port hub was bought last year to work with the Windows ‘solution’ ( I was lucky to get 3 connected at one time!) and I never got around to buying a bigger one for this year. In the end, the delay in waiting for the Restores to finish before I could start the next installation meant having 16 plugged in would have meant a lot of waiting anyway. The whole set up took about 2 days to finish and was pretty painless; I had one error on one iPad that I had to reinstall but other than that each iPad’s installation went flawlessly if not a little long in duration but that was because I installed too many apps (more on that later). About a week later, Apple’s Configurator was released. ( missed it by that much!)

The hassles came in the weeks to follow. Due to a lack of forward thinking on my own behalf, there were several configuration set ups I didn’t think to do on the base iPad “image”. It was only when the iPads started being used and teachers and students wanted to email documents that I realised that I had not set up an email account on the iPads. Orginally I hadn’t considered it because of the perceived hassle of everyone wanting to use their own email on a shared iPad. That wasn’t going to work. However, we still needed a system to email work in apps that didn’t support other solutions. In the end, I set up a dedicated account in our school internet-based mail system just for the iPad ( with my account as the forwarding address in case inappropriate mail was being received) so that anyone could SEND emails to their own accounts to be opened on other computers. I also soon realised that I had inadvertently set up the FileBrowser app’s network access and the Edmodo app under my name so that any user on any iPad was logged in as me! All these settings had to be individually changed to fix that obvious security hole. Fortunately, I solved this quickly through the use of my newly appointed Student ICT Leadership team who spent an hour with me changing all the settings. Before you worry about the handing over of responsibility to students, none of this required providing sensitive information to them. I actually recommend training up a small group of students to help with non-critical management that doesn’t need passwords or the like – they’re easier to train than most adults as long as they are trustworthy, which mine are under supervision. They have also helped me with setting up numbered wallpapers for better identification, folder creation and maintenance and other simple management tasks.

MAINTAINING THE SETUP

The next issue to arise is the updating and installing of new apps and system updates. Originally, I had set up the iPads to sync and update wirelessly so that I wouldn’t have to manage that constantly. Unfortunately, I found this too be less than ideal for a number of reasons.

I’m not sure if it was because of our proxy server being mean to iTunes, the wifi being overloaded and inconsistent or a combination of both but I could never get the iPads to consistently sync. Some iPads would end up with newly purchased apps automatically installed while others wouldn’t. Some iPads would backup and update apps while others would deliver error messages to iTunes. Often, someone would open up an iPad to use an app they had previously used to find it in a longstanding waiting to update state, rendering it unusable. Then the emails from the Office complaining about the bills for exceeding our monthly downloads started coming. So I went back to physically connecting the iPads to iTunes and manually syncing for app updates and loading of new apps. This has proved to be less problematic and allowed me to keep all the iPads consistent in setup.

Having said that, with the number of apps I have loaded on iTunes , the download limit for the school is still being exceeded and I’ve resorted to taking an iPad home and updating there with my unlimited iTunes download account and then syncing the updated apps back to the Mac Mini at school. This is clearly not a viable long term solution as I won’t be around at the school forever and my home account can be relied upon as a management system. My ICT leader just informed me this week that the download cap issue is being fixed so that is one problem solved for us but is still a consideration for others to deal with .

Just as frustratingly problematic has been upgrading the iOS system software. As soon as I had set up all the iPads at the start of the year and rolled them out for use , the 5.1 update was released. Sometimes in schools, upgrade cycles are delayed because the benefits of upgrades are outweighed by the hassles of interrupting the workflow of others when dealing with a large scale deployment of devices. From personal experience, though, upgrading iOS was a walk in the park so I decided to do the upgrade straight away. Apple’s own upgraded apps wouldn’t work without the update anyway.

Well, again, not sure if it was proxy problems or trying to manage too many devices from a single computer but it wasn’t smooth sailing. Waiting for each iPad to install, load and restart before the next update cycle for the next iPad could begin meant a lot of wait time. iPad management is not my full time job so this was a time issue that could effect teachers in other schools who also become the iPad person. Occasionally updates would fail and you would have to start again. Once or twice, I’ve discovered one or two iPads in a set not up to date. For some reason, again possibly the proxy server problem, I couldn’t update wirelessly so I’ve just taken them home to run the update. As I mentioned earlier, I haven’t used Apple Configurator software yet because I haven’t had the chance to interrupt the workflow of iPad use to reconfigure the whole set up. Reading some reviews, it seems to be a good solution so will see how that goes at end of year when I reimage and set up for 2013.

GENERAL USAGE
Once all the setup hassles have been tackled, I can at least report the general day to day usage has run smoothly. In our case, all the iPads are centrally stored in one locked cupboard in my office. I set up a borrowing system on GoogleDocs that the teachers use to book out sets of iPads for timetabled sessions. We have five sets of 7 iPads in transportable kits. Instead of spending money on expensive sync carts, we decided to buy dish washing racks from the local hardware store and attached a powerboard to each rack. The iPads fit snugly in the racks and can be easily carried from office to classrooms. There are teachers who don’t like the hassle of “collect and return” but for charging, syncing and security reasons, we want all the iPads in a central locations at the end of the day. Each iPad is also assigned to an individual teacher so they can take one overnight or on weekends to explore. They have to sign an ipad agreement before this happens to ensure due care is taken. There have been occasional care issues with the return of the sets. It would be nice to see teachers take the extra 5 minutes to ensure the cables aren’t tangled or crossed over and the iPads are put neatly back in the racks.

There was a suggestion that the iPads should be available to only the junior grades since the senior grades had access to so much technology and the juniors didn’t but I pushed for a trial period of P-6 access. I didn’t want the situation of 35 iPads sitting idle waiting for the juniors to use them while the older children were hanging out for a chance to get their hands on them for valid reasons. As it stands, everyone is using them fairly consistently and there are still days when some sets don’t see the light of day. More training sessions are needed to showcase their potential use, Once that happens more frequently ( report writing time has delayed that in recent weeks ) I’m sure we’ll see empty cupboards.

FINAL THOUGHTS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
After reading this you could either be doubting my supposed credentials as an iPad blogger or hesitating to tackle large scale deployment of iPads. Hopefully you won’t do either of those. Despite the hassles, the general experience has been a good one. My biggest mistake has been trying to do it all on my own. As a lifelong Apple user, I’m used to working out issues by myself but on a big scale you need support. Have a look at Configurator in the Mac App Store. Call Apple. Talk to others in the same situation.

Plan. Have a clear plan for what you want on each iPad. Make sure you know what you want in terms of network settings, mail settings, apps, restrictions and so on before you set up the iPad image you want to use. Think about how you are going to manage the upkeep long term and have an organized plan for that. Do your research. Make sure you have all infrastructure in place that can manage your plan effectively. Know what your school’s Internet usage is. Know how your security setting like proxies are and how they may affect your plan. ( ICT leader has just met with new Education Office expert who informs us that new system coming will solve the proxy problems we have – double Yay!!) Know your budget and for those outside USA, know that the Volume Purchasing Program is on its way and we will need to be stricter on our app purchasing and deployment.
Plan.

I would love to hear from others their success stories and frustrations. This time two years ago the iPad was just a personal media device intended for individual use. In a very short time it has become a must have educational tool without a perfect system to make it happen. It’s no that simple yet.

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Future proof your Education

The concept of 21st Learning has been around since the 1990s. There was a recognition that with the pace of technological change, the jobs of the 20th Century would be unrecognisable to those living in the 21st Century. We had to prepare our students for a future of great difference and uncertainty. As a result, we needed to move towards a more independent, skills based education system rather than the model we had that was based on content knowledge and specific skills for specific jobs. Well, we are into the second decade of the 21st Century and the question has to be asked – how well have we advanced in developing 21st Century Learners?

This concept came back to the forefront of my thinking when I discovered this wonderful Prezi above by Maria H Andersen (@busynessgirl) from Muskegon Community College. If you have a spare couple of hours, I recommend you delve into the full breadth of information she presents about ‘Future-Proofing Education” or take it in small chunks, which through the power of Prezi you can do comfortably. Or you can read my summative commentary on what Andersen presents.

INTRODUCTION

The presentation begins with an often viewed “did You Know” video that challenges us to consider the future direction of education. As mentioned earlier, preparing for the future means developing the skills involved in the multiple career paths the current and future generations will be taking. In a global community, international competition from the massive populations of developing powerhouses India and China means developing a workforce ready for any challenge. The confronting statistic that India has more “honours kids” than America has kids makes you realise education has to develop lifelong learning skills rather than a narrow curriculum based on key content. With information exponentially increasing via technology, we can’t keep up with pure knowledge retention. Skill based education has to be the focus.

The Prezi presentation then outlines the skills required to “future-proof our education” and develop a generation of creative, collaborative learners and workers,heavily linking this to the role of technology.

The skills are:

Focus, Explain, Interact, Analyze, Flex and Learn.

What follows here are my  reflections on Andersen’s compelling message.

Focus

  • A humorous video clip stresses the challenge of managing the information stream: Students are in real danger of information overload if we don’t develop in our schools curricula on how to work with the massive amounts of information we are exposed to in today’s media rich world. The focus needs to be on dissemination of this information, not the information itself, which can be out of date by the end of the year.
  • Pay attention to details-like Copyright: Kids will post anything on the internet and have grown up in an environment of anything I can download can be mine. In a closed classroom filled with printed posters of information. It is important at an early age we develop the understanding that the opposite is actually true. Responsible Digital Citizenship is a more important skill to develop than downloading. Awareness of Creative Commons is a must for a generation of Internet content creators. (the embedded video outlines CC effectively)
  • Remember when you need to: We need to develop strategies for sorting information into manageable chunks that we can remember. Skills in separating the “wheat from the chaff” ( necessary information from the superfluous) need to mastered so that students can find the required knowledge effectively and quickly. Organising,categorising, streamlining, accessing data replaces endless and often futile memorisation.
  • Observe critically: With the focus on critical thinking rather than fact collection, students will be more prepared for unknown challenges that don’t rely on regurgitation of facts. With more information presented visually, observation is also important.
  • Read with understanding: This follows on from critical thinking. Experiences in the classroom have to focus on understanding the message, not recalling the event or fact.
  • Set and meet goals: This is a massive challenge for students now and the teachers who aren’t used to this type of goal setting themselves. However, if we are going to be prepared for an uncertain future, we need the skills to plan for it in an methodical, analytical way.

Explain

  • Media literacy: Past generations were exposed to text based information at school with an occasional special film viewing to introduce a topic. This literacy model based on text is outdated today. Expecting our students to learn via a multimedia, internet experience is a massive challenge if we only teach literacy skills through static,text based materials. If we are wondering why they are plagiarising information from Wikipedia, maybe its because we haven’t taught them how to actually access information from the Internet effectively. News is no longer just text in a newspaper. Encyclopedias have been replaced by interactive graphics and hyperlinked sources. Many adults today are overwhelmed by the Internet because they weren’t prepared to use it. Future generations have to be prepared for it. We’re not going back to text only.

  • Present ideas digitally/Design for the audience: If all our information is being presented to us digitally, we have to learn to present our own ideas digitally. The audience of today expects it. The audience of tomorrow won’t know any other way. I’m not saying goodbye to handwriting but we have to focus on the digital text.
  • Depict data visually. Infographics have become the way of presenting data. Manageable chunks of information visually presented for the visual learners of today. ” A picture paints a thousands words” is even more relevant today. Students need to learn how to do this effectively. They’ll understand the data better by creating it visually and they will get the point across better too.
  • Convey ideas in text/Speak so that others understand: Data is visual but ideas still needs to be written to develop their complexity. The role of blogging becomes important here. Having an audience through a blog forces you to explain your ideas with greater clarity because you want the readers to understand. A text between you and a teacher doesn’t seem so important so less thought is put into it. Getting a job in the future is going to require communication skills. We need to develop these skills as early as possible.

Interact

As far as we can predict, working collaboratively with others is going to be a major focus in the future, both face to face and particularly via telecommunications. It’s already here in a big way, but will be the mode of working and communicating in the future. Having skills in interacting in a variety of ways then is paramount.

  • Advocate and influence: Developing skills of persuasion, fighting for worthy causes and issues, representing others in a global community of the future will be a necessity. Communicating with others over the internet ( or whatever it is 20 years from now)  will be needed to have an influence on decision making. Therefore, we need to start this kind of action in schools today. In this presentation, it is put in the context of influencing through game dynamics. How can we use game play to influence a generation of video game players in a meaningful way to bring about social change?
  • Resolve conflict and negotiate: In a collaborative work environment, whether in an physical office or part of an online community is a challenging but inevitable part of life. Difference of opinions have to be resolved and negotiating solutions will be necessary skills. Having student led ( but teacher guided) environments for learning lead to the need for the children being responsible for decisions and their own learning.
  • Collaborate Face to face or virtually: Technology today has made collaboration so pervasive in our lives. We have to make this part of the curriculum nowt prepare students for what is inevitable in their future careers. Expose them to online forums, discussion boards and videoconferencing.
  • Guide others: Student driven learning gives them the experience of teaching others rather than being passive learners.
  • Lead (and the first follower): Having children involved in authentic decision making is necessary to develop leadership skills. Not everyone can be the leader and teaching them how to influence as part of a team is also important. I love the message of the video used here that a leader working alone is useless without the support of the first person to stand up and follow the leader. This is sometimes the hardest thing for a child to do: decide to make their own call to follow someone. Only then does a team begin to form.

Analyze

It is expected that the jobs of the future will involve much analysis of information. The ability to:

  • Interpret data
  • Make decisions
  • Think critically
  • Solve problems
  • Forecast
  • Filter information
needs to become a greater focus in today’s education. Software that converts data into easy to understanded organised forms needs to become commonplace. Out of date maths text books with out of context maths word problems  need to be replaced by the use of software that takes real data and presents,sort, organises and analyses it in useful ways. So much more of the information we present to our students should be done in this way rather than long sequences of text.

Flex

In an ever changing global workplace with employment opportunities forever changing as the world changes , students need to become flexible, adaptable team members.

  • Think across disciplines: We need to stop teaching separate subjects and content and integrate tasks so that multiple skill usage becomes the norm.
  • Think across cultures/See others perspectives: As work shifts to overseas environments or migrant workers become more commonplace in our own countries, we have to become better at understanding other cultures and adapt to working with people of different backgrounds. This is possibly one of the few content areas to override skills based curriculum – the knowledge of different cultures and how they operate differently to the culture we belong to.
  • Be creative and innovate/Adapt to new situations: We need to leverage the use of creative Web 2.0 tools and current/emerging tech tools to develop  skills in our students to create new ideas that can have an influence on their future world. Start small by providing opportunities for inventing products, innovating on existing products, looking for ways to improve current practice. When we don’t know what we will be doing in 20 years, we need skills in creating, not just following predetermined norms of behaviour that are now redundant. We have to adapt to new living conditions and use our creativity to solve problems. Past education systems based on the industrial models to create workers for a single industry won’t work in a future where human based industries can be replaced by technology.

Learn
All of this change in the way the world operates means we have to change the way we learn and the purpose of learning at schools. The world we live in today is so different even to 5 years ago. The pace of change post-mart phone/tablet/web 2.0 is unrecognisable. We have to change education to prepare for this new world that will be unrecognisable in another 5 years from now.

The Prezi covers the following areas under the umbrella of Learn:

  • Formulate a learning plan
  • Synthesize the details
  • Information literacy
  • Formulate good questions
  • Reflect and evaluate
  • Meta cognition (know what you know)

I’m going to go into more detail in this area in my next post as there are certain aspects of technology use and shifting Literacy foci  here that deserve more attention than a dot point.
The depth of my thinking about Education has profoundly changed as a result of writing this blog this year. Through my exploration of other education blogs, I have been inspired to dig deeper into what my beliefs about education really are. This Prezi presentation has had a big impact on that thinking. It’s not a major research project. It’s not created by a world famous education expert. But the ideas behind these images and the videos ( several are from TEDTalks) Andersen has selected should be what teaching and learning is all about in the future. I implore you to spend some time watching them. I hope they inspire you to change education for the better as well. Would love to hear what you think.

Writing Prodigy or not, this is also about expectations, support and technology

A lot of you have probably heard of Adora Svitak.The now 14 year old literacy prodigy, came to prominence at the tender age of 7 (!) as a prolific writer. On her blog is a referenced article about a report on her by Diane Sawyer from Good Morning America. After reading the article and viewing the popular TEDTalk Adora presented a couple of years ago (as seen above), I started thinking about the impact of her story on education. Many have commented on Adora Svitak. Some comment on her unusual prodigious talent. Others ( not that much stock should be taken of the views of faceless YouTube commenters) question the “coaching” of her parents and how much of her ideas are truly hers. However, I approach her story differently. I focus on what has made an impact on her astounding growth in literacy skills and wonder whether the same influences can have similar, albeit not at the same level, effects on other children’s learning. Can Adora’s story be the story of every student in your grade?

Writing as means to express ideas
“On Good Morning America, Diane Sawyer called Adora Svitak a ‘Tiny literary giant.” The title seems astute when you measure her diminutive stature against her accomplishments. Though only four feet tall, seven-year-old Adora has written over 250,000 words this year alone. Try that one on for size. She may be small, but she has big ideas, and, thanks to writing, she has the means to express them.”

While I don’t expect many children in Grade 2 to be churning out 250 thousand words this year, this highlights the importance of valuing their ‘big ideas’ and giving children the opportunity and time to express them. I used to love watching those interviews Bill Cosby did with kids. Those little wonders could talk about amazing things. Cosby let them be the star of the show. Do we give our children enough opportunities just to express what they are thinking? Or do we only let them talk about topics we plan to cover our curriculum? Have we ever considered that its not that little Johnny is struggling in class because of poor literacy but because we don’t let him share what he likes and knows about?

As we continue to teach in this new Age of Personalised Learning, has our mindset changed enough to stop pigeonholing class timetables into pockets of time limited rotations of lessons or 40 minute standardized tests and start giving our students the time and freedom to express what they are really thinking? If we do, maybe we’ll get more Adoras writing 250,000 words in a year.

Early Support, genuine interest in the child’s passions and pushing your own passions, time and effort is important even before they are ready. Over to you, Parents (and teachers).
“At an early age, Adora’s passion for reading inspired her love for writing. Although she was originally not so confident in her spelling and grammar and her early writing depended on help from her mom, her sister, and her tutors, she refused to be discouraged by her mistakes and kept asking for help. Pretty soon she was able to write simple stories that were a few pages long. Her ideas and vocabulary were now advanced beyond her years, but she was still hindered by a typical five-year-olds’ limited handwriting skills”.

Obviously, Adora wanted to write and loved to read. Where did that come from? Her parents. What’s important in the reference above is that her parents and others recognised she wanted to write, had some limitations but didn’t let those limitations get in the way of Adora’s passions. We need to find ways to support students to keep pumping their ideas out and not hold them back because they have not achieved mastery in all required areas. So what if we can’t read the student’s work? Write it for them. That’s what publishers do for authors. JK Rowling didn’t personally type the 450 million copies of Harry Potter books. If we want students to develop as writers we have to teach writing as expression of ideas, not as a series of perfectly constructed letters spelt correctly and in beautifully constructed sentences. I’ve sat through too many writing moderation sessions where teachers are automatically drawn to the poor handwriting and spelling mistakes before they even read the content of the text. This has to change. Adora wan’t discouraged by her mistakes or issues with spelling, grammar and punctuation, or her five year old handwriting skills. She and her parents were determined to get the stories told one way or the other. Did it make it any less of a story because Mum wrote the words out correctly? I don’t think so. Children end up hating writing because we focus on the mechanics and aesthetics, not the content. Let’s shift the focus.

Watch the  video from 4:50 onwards. She tells of the other support her parents gave. I love the fact that Dad read Pioneer Germ Fighters and Aristotle to her as well as the Wheels on the Bus. As parents ( I have 2 brilliant (not quite Adora) kids of my own) it should be our goal to push the limits with our children. And it doesn’t have to be writing for parents who don’t have that passion. But push those boundaries. Teachers, I’m talking to you too. It is an abrogation of our responsibilities to let our our own limited interest in certain areas restrict student development. It’s also a crime not to share your own passion for learning, whatever it is, with children. Reach high. Expect greatness ( but not be disappointed if it doesn’t come ) Don’t be afraid to challenge your children and let them struggle. Support them through the struggle, as Adora’s parents did. This is not pushy parenting I’m talking about. This is just expecting the best for ,and from, your kids.

Technology plays its part. Don’t fear its influence. Embrace it.
“Her breakthrough came in the form of a used Dell laptop that her mother bought her in the spring of 2004. She was fascinated by what she could do with Microsoft Word. After her aunt and uncle showed her some of the functions, she was very eager to experiment and discovered many tools on her own. With the help of “JumpStart Typing for Kids” and DK’s “Creative Writing” program, she was soon typing 60 words a minute.

Her passion for writing grew as Word helped her surpass technical limitations. She could now check her own spelling, which helped her gain confidence. Even if she was not 100% sure of a word’s definition, she could now use the program’s simple ‘Look Up’ feature (Encarta Dictionary) or Dictionary.com on any new word she discovered in her reading, and she began using synonyms or antonyms to make her writing more exciting and precise.”

The key focus for me here ( and from the content of my blog my obvious bias is showing) is that technology enabled the breakthrough from struggling to prolific writer. As mentioned earlier, Adora’s writing was restricted by the limitation’s of a 5 year old’s physical writing skills. Using a laptop to compose her writing changed all that. I’ve made this point in another post, but I’ll say it again. We must stop seeing technology as an easy way out for writing. Spell check is an enabler, not the systematic destruction of spelling skills through laziness. Adora could concentrate on her ideas and let the computer help with the mechanics. From what she has become, it certainly didn’t affect her development as a writer. Access to computer based reference tools helped her expand her vocabulary far easier than flicking through page and pages of paper thesauruses and dictionaries. ( and when it didn’t help, no doubt her family was there to support). She didn’t have to wait for ‘teacher’ to correct her work before she moved on and I’m sure she wouldn’t have handwritten 250 thousand words in a year.

I’m not saying we just let computers take over the whole writing process. I am a major proponent of scaffolding writing, modelling text writing and improving grammatical and spelling knowledge. I’m saying that computers/laptops/tablets need to be part of the whole writing process. If we want more Adora Svitaks in the world, then we don’t just pray for good DNA; we need to build the environment she flourished in. TEchnology was a big part of that and continues to be today. She blogs, she authentically publishes for the world ( not just her classroom teacher and parents), she writes with other children. She’s done it all with technology at the forefront. We need to take notice of that.

What kind of person do we want our children to be?
“Adora has imagination, an ability to distill her vast learning into dynamic prose, the courage and curiosity to explore different genres, the wisdom and maturity to accept and learn from criticism, and a tireless desire to better her craft by writing and revising every day. She truly is a working literary giant.”

As teachers and parents, we have to develop these qualities in all of our children, not just the prodigy and the gifted. Not every child can be Adora Svitak. But every child has an imagination, which is sometimes repressed by the limitations of classroom protocols and restrictive parenting. Every child has curiosity, which can be killed off by the restraints of a prescribed curriculum focus. Genres are just different ways of communicating, which every child can explore if we allow them to, instead of mandating expositions for term 1 in preparation for standardised tests. As adults, we have to be brave enough to be critical so children can learn from their mistakes and our constructive feedback, instead of worrying about their fragile self esteem that can only handle ” that’s a great effort” when they write 1 sentence. Every child wants to be better, which will only happen in writing if we focus on revising. If we shift the focus from quantity and speed to quality, and allow technology to support revising instead of rewriting, there will be a lot more children out their writing as prolifically as Adora Svitak.

There will always be child prodigies in the world that stand out from the crowd. Little Mr “one sentence a week” in Grade 5 will never be Adora Svitak. Get him early, though, and with expectations, encouragement, support and a healthy dose of technology to guide him along, we can get him a lot closer. That’s my opinion, anyway. Am I way off? Without any research to back it up other than an amazing talent’s story, can I get this to happen? Over to you, readers. What do you think? Is it possible to create a world of Adoras if we get education right? Can all parents be this supportive? Join in the debate.