Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Curriculum for Wales 2022 - Workshop

Yesterday afternoon (14th May) I attended a Curriculum for Wales 2022 event at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff. Organised by the Welsh Government, the event provided stakeholders who had no input into the construction of the draft curriculum with the opportunities to find out more and importantly, communicate their own thoughts on the draft. The afternoon event was well attended and appeared to be a mix of people from FE/HE, business and some teachers. I understand that teachers / schools are also being offered similar events via their regional consortium.

View from our workshop room

For the first hour, the Welsh Government delivered a presentation on the background to the draft curriculum. Much of what was outlined is already in the public domain, but it was helpful to hear the details again and will certainly help to form a background to subsequent meetings or courses I provide to schools. Consistent messages are definitely helpful for schools. Delegates then broke off in workshops focused on a particular area of learning and experience (AoLE).

Science & Technology AoLE Workshop

If you have read my previous blog post, then you will know that I have many unanswered questions about the draft curriculum in WM6 (computation) specifically. I imagined that this workshop would be the WG representatives introducing what they had done and possibly explaining their thinking behind the proposed content, with stakeholders asking questions and debating points. If I'd have thought through this properly, this was never going to be the approach as we only had a couple of hours and there would be too much to go through. However, it was still a very interesting and hopefully worthwhile session, even if I did leave a little none the wiser in some ways, but at least was able to communicate my thoughts and ideas. Tom Crick (Professor of Digital Education & Policy at Swansea University) and Pat McCarthy from the Welsh Government, led the session. The workshop was basically centred around working with colleagues sat in your group, completing several feedback forms on different aspects of the AoLE. I made sure that all the concerns I had, were written down during these paper-based tasks. 
But we did also get a chance to talk to Tom and Pat about a couple of things:
DCF / WM6 overlap - I mentioned that I couldn't really understand why current DCF skills, from Data and Computation Thinking primarily (although there are other examples too) were also being highlighted in WM6. I wanted to get to the bottom of this because I was beginning to think that I had misunderstood what was trying to be done in WM6 and that they could enlighten me on what I had missed. But no, the verbal feedback was very much that the group were aware of this and were already working on it. Also that I should make sure that I fed back my concerns to WG. I was also able to speak to another colleague who had worked alongside the pioneer schools in writing this section, who said something very similar. 
Terminology - by it's very nature, science and technology is full of words and phrases, that to the average person, may find difficult to fully understand. There was some discussion around the language used, specifically whether it was understandable to many non subject specialists in the primary phase. The potential problem as I see it, is in the 'unpacking' of exactly what is meant by the word or phrase. I provided a fairly long list of statements at PS3 in my last post that I felt would challenge most Yr4, 5 and 6 teachers. Firstly "what does this mean?" and when fully understood, "how do I teach it to my class?" I don't think we really got to the bottom of this, although I did make the point that a lot of work would be needed in supporting teachers and providing suitable age related teaching resources. A very experienced Yr6 teacher did say at one point that she was having difficulty in understanding the language in the document. 

So, as far as I could gather, the main point of the afternoon was for the Welsh Government to collate  our thoughts on each AoLE. I obviously can't speak for the other AoLEs, but in our Science & Technology group it was good that both Tom and Pat were actively encouraging feedback, however large or small. I think I got my points across, both verbally and in writing...but who knows? Let's see if they listen to the concerns around terminology, content and the DCF related skills. I can't be the only one thinking that these are concerns at WM6? We'll now only know when the new curriculum is finally released in January 2020. 
Final thought - It's interesting that the DCF overlap is something that the pioneer group were already aware of. If they were aware of it at this relatively early point after launch, why did they release this peculiar version? Were things not quite finished and there a touch of panic to get something out? Are we going to see WM6 in the final curriculum looking considerably different? If so, have we really had a chance to consult on that? Just a thought.....

Monday, 13 May 2019

Initial Thoughts On The Science and Technology Draft Curriculum - WM6

The following post is my attempt at beginning to understand and reflect on the proposed Science and Technology Area of Learning and Experience. It is only focused on the computer science statements in What Matters 6 (WM6) and more specifically on the statements that relate mainly to the primary school - Progression Steps 1, 2 & 3.

At the end of April we finally got to see the long awaited draft Curriculum for Wales 2022, to much fanfare from the Minister for Education, Kirsty Williams, the Welsh Government and the teachers and pioneer schools involved in its development. So it was with professional interest, tinged with trepidation, that I downloaded and began reading the proposals for the Science and Technology Area of Learning and Experience (AoLE). Before I go any further, for colleagues reading this blog outside the bubble of education in Wales, the draft curriculum is another step along the major changes to education in Wales, initiated by Prof Graham Donaldson and his Successful Futures report back in February 2015. If you’re interested in this you can read several posts I wrote on this and the subsequent introduction of the Digital Competence Framework.

The new curriculum will consist of 6 Areas of Learning and Experience:

  • Expressive arts.
  • Health and well-being.
  • Humanities (including RE which should remain compulsory to age 16).
  • Languages, literacy and communication (including Welsh, which should remain compulsory to age 16, and modern foreign languages).
  • Mathematics and numeracy.
  • Science and technology.

We are now in a period of consultation in which schools and other relevant stakeholders are being encouraged to read the new documents and provide the Welsh Government with feedback by the 19th July, 2019. After considering the feedback the new curriculum and assessment arrangements will be available from January 2020.

The Science and Technology AoLE “draws on the disciplines of biology, chemistry, computer science, design and technology, and physics to enhance our knowledge and understanding of the world.” It is structured into six ‘What matters’ statements which according to the Welsh Government, “capture the key aspects of learning for Science and Technology. They are designed to operate together, and support settings and schools to develop a more detailed and holistic curriculum for learning and teaching.” Schools are therefore being encouraged to make connections between what matters statements in developing their own school curriculum, along with more widely any possible and relevant connections with other AoLEs.

As I outlined at the beginning of the post, I am only going to focus on one particular 'What matters' statement in this post - WM6 (Computation applies algorithms to data in order to solve real-world problems), which is focused to the computer science related statements. More specifically, looking at the statements that focus on the primary school phase - Progression Steps 1, 2 and 3 which relate broadly to expectations at ages 5 (nursery & reception), 8 (Yrs1, 2 & 3), 11 (Yrs 4, 5 & 6). However, there are further Progression Steps 4 and 5 which relate to pupil expectations at ages 14 and 16 respectively. Note that WM1 to 5 focus on ‘curiosity’ about Science and Technology and searching for answers, Design and Technology, Biology, Chemistry and Physics.

Lastly, each what matters section is broken up into three parts:
Learning - which contains ‘I can…’ statements e.g. I can follow instructions to build, test and control a physical device, for each Progression Step (PS). With the exception of PS1, all other Progression Steps are structured under the headings:

  • Algorithms
  • Data
  • Computational Systems
  • Cybersecurity

Planning for Learning - this section suggests where WM6 could be enriched by making links with other WM areas within Science and Technology, and also suggests links to the other five Areas of Learning and Experience.

Experience, knowledge and skills - finally, in this section, we are introduced to what the learners need to:
  • experience
  • know
  • be able to do 
These are found under the same four headings as can be found in Learning (see above).

Initial Thoughts, Comments And Questions On WM6 (PS1, 2 & 3)

1. DCF Overlap -There appears to be a clear overlap of WM6 statements and the DCF. The cross over appearing in the Algorithms and Data sections of WM6 which relate closely to the DCF areas of ‘data and computational thinking’. There is also some cross over between the Cybersecurity section and some aspects of DCF ‘citizenship’. Why is there a repeat of the DCF statements in WM6 when similar/same tasks are meant to be carried out in a cross curricular context across all the AoLEs?

2. Year Group Mismatch - There appears to be a mismatch between when something is being introduced in WM6 and when a similar skill is being introduced in the DCF. There are also slight differences in the wording. For example:

Science and Technology WM6
Digital Competence Framework
PS1 Cybersecurity - Learners need to experience keeping digital information safe and private. Yr1 Citizenship > Identity, image and reputation - “understand that some websites ask for information that is private and personal, e.g. identify private and personal information and discuss how to handle requests for private information – not disclosing full name, address, date of birth, school.” Nothing explicitly mentioned about keeping digital information safe and private until Yr1.
PS1 Algorithms - I can identify errors in simple sets of instructions. Yr 3 Data and computational thinking > Problem solving and modelling - “detect and correct mistakes in sequences of instructions, e.g. identify mistakes in a solution that would cause it to fail (debug)” Nothing explicitly mentioned about identifying errors in the year groups prior to Yr3.
PS3 Algorithms - Learners need to be able to predict the outcome of sequences of instructions. Yr2 Data and computational thinking > Problem solving and modelling - predict the outcome of simple sequences of instructions, e.g. predict what will happen if instructions are followed accurately. This is the closest DCF statement, mentioning simple sequences as opposed to just sequences. However, nothing similar is referred to in Yr3, 4, 5 or 6.
PS3 Algorithms - Learners need to be able to detect and correct mistakes in their own and others algorithms. Yr3 Data and computational thinking > Problem solving and modelling - detect and correct mistakes in sequences of instructions, e.g. identify mistakes in a solution that would cause it to fail (debug).This is the closest DCF statement, mentioning correcting mistakes. However, nothing similar is referred to  in Yr4, 5 or 6.
PS3 Algorithms - Learners need to be able to apply a range of appropriate methods to validate and verify data. Nothing mentioned in the DCF Data and Computational Thinking > Data and information literacy section at KS2, referring to validation and verification of data. Validity is currently mentioned in the DCF Yr7 section in the ‘classroom tasks’ section. The word verify is only mentioned in the ‘classroom tasks’ section at Yr11.

3. Unsuitable / Inconsistent terminology - In PS2 we are introduced ‘coding’ in the Algorithm section and ‘programming’ in Computational systems. Do both words mean the same thing or are they different things? Both of these words are not referred to in the Glossary at the end of the Science and Technology AoLE booklet. At PS3, the word ‘programming’ appears but not ‘coding’.
PS1 - Under Computational systems, it says that “I can experiment with and identify uses of a range of computing technology in the world around me.” Instead of using the words “experiment with..”, would a more age appropriate phrase such as, “I can play with..” or “I can tinker with..” which would also be introducing computational thinking terminology, be more suitable?
PS2 - Under Algorithms, the sentence beginning, “coding a simple programme to create and refine a set of instructions...etc.” is in my opinion, a difficult sentence to understand. Could it be changed to something like, “create and debug a simple unplugged sequence”?
PS2 - Under Data, learners need to be able to “communicate data in a range of formats”. However, the word ‘present’ is used in the Learning Outcomes. Couldn’t the same word be used, whether it’s present or communicate?
PS2 & 3 refer to inputting data into a “computer system” - Is data inputted into a computer system or into a computer ‘program or application’?
PS3 - several instances of language, technical phrases and concepts which would challenge most subject non-specialist primary school teachers (see point 7.).
4. Data At PS1 - Why is Data missing from PS1? It is in both PS2 and 3 which are generally following similar DCF data statements. Data is referred to in the DCF at nursery and reception.
5. PS1 Cybersecurity - Why is Cybersecurity missing from the Achievement Outcomes section of PS1 when reference is made to it in Experience, Knowledge and Skills?
6. Learning Outcomes / Experience, Knowledge and Skills - Do the Learning Outcomes fully reflect the Experience, Knowledge and Skills section? For example:
PS1 Algorithms - Experience, Knowledge and Skills refers to learners needing to experience “controlling programmable devices during their play”, however reference to this doesn’t seem to appear in the Learning Outcomes. Under Computational systems, learners need to be able to use digital equipment appropriately, but again there doesn’t appear to be a suitable achievement outcome covering this.
There are a couple of other similar instances in PS2 and PS3.
7. Expectations At PS3 - PS3 in general, appears to ‘ramp up’ what pupils in Yr4, 5 and 6 need to either experience, know or be able to do. I’m sure that some will debate whether what is being introduced at this age is either needed or is age appropriate for the pupil. I can also foresee concerns with the ability of the non specialist primary school teacher being able to teach many of these aspects without some support, training and the development of suitable age appropriate resources. The following statements from the experience, knowledge and skills section, I think could be particularly challenging:
(Algorithms) Learners need to experience using machine-learning applications.
(Data) Learners need to know that individual, commercial companies and government agencies use data within algorithms.
(Data) Learners need to know a range of appropriate methods to validate and verify data.
(Data) Learners need to be able to make informed decisions by using scientific methods to interrogate and analyse data.
(Computational systems) Learners need to know how the virtual and digital worlds connect.
(Cybersecurity) Learners need to know about Wales’s contributions to the continual development and use of computational technologies, and their influence on Welsh affairs.
(Cybersecurity) Learners need to be able to base decisions about the use of computation on ethical and legal considerations.
(Cybersecurity) Learners need to be able to describe the key parts of consent ownership and accountability of data.

As far as I’m aware, none of the above have been taught in Welsh primary schools before. There could well be simple answers or approaches to teaching these areas. However, on initial reading I believe that the overwhelming majority of primary teachers will struggle to either understand the terminology or if they do, how they go about teaching it.
8. ‘Pioneer’ Examples - My understanding is that pioneer schools, working on this AoLE, have been trialling this curriculum. If so, it would be very helpful to see how this draft curriculum has been delivered in the classroom. I’d be particularly interested in seeing how PS3 has been taught.


What do I think? It’s really difficult for me to answer as I still many questions about it. The overlap with the DCF, especially in the Data section seems peculiar. Does the Data section need to be in here? Surely the Welsh Government could just update the current DCF to reflect some of the new Data related statements in WM6 as many of them attempt to replicate what's in the DCF? Likewise with some of Cybersecurity statements around credentials, they could just update the relevant DCF Citizenship aspect. Conversely, I would suggest the removal of Data and computation thinking > Problem solving and modelling section from the DCF and bringing it into WM6. This DCF section is focused on computational thinking and like the Data statements, some of it is being replicated in this draft WM6. Taking this section out of the DCF and placing it all in WM6, alongside the introduction of coding, would in my opinion make more sense. Computational thinking activities that would then lead to a coding output. At present, while it’s in the DCF and being highlighted across curriculum subjects, very rarely (if ever) does it lead to any coding.

Tomorrow afternoon (May 14th), I’m attending a Welsh Government Curriculum for Wales 2022 meeting in Cardiff and attending the Science and Technology workshop. Hopefully, things will become a little clearer?

Friday, 23 March 2018

GDPR / Cloud Storage - Clarity Please

I seem to be spending much of my time talking to head teachers at the moment about GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) which is implemented on May 25th 2018. It is an issue that is certainly vexing many. However it's not just GDPR per se, but around related issues in what schools can and cannot save in the cloud, and the usual 'Google isn't safe’ mantra that is still being trotted out by some. Let's look at the GDPR issue first. From discussions I’ve had, there seems to be a lack of good information or advice about exactly what this means for a school, especially primary schools that I mainly work with. Here’s a link to GDPR education section of the Information Commissioner's Office website. Here schools can find out more information about GDPR. However, what I would really like to see is some concise information coming out from local authorities, regional consortia or the Welsh Government. Spelling out simply (if that's possible) what head teachers need to do or start thinking about.The void that's left because of the lack of good, clear information encourages rumours to spread, which leads me neatly onto my next points, cloud storage and safety.

The issue about whether Google is 'safe', should have been put to bed a long time ago. Tom Lewis and Guto Aaron have recently written excellent articles about this, outlining the security of the platform. If companies such as Airbus, Morrisons, Ocado and Nippon Airways, to name just a few, are happy to use G Suite for their companies and feel that it is 'safe', then I'm confident that my data must be safe and secure for my primary school. In Wales in particular, I think this is being raised more than other countries in the UK because of our focus on the Hwb national platform and the drive to ensure all schools in Wales use it. The unsafe rumour is then a useful message to spread to schools as it will put doubt in people's minds. Schools will then move to using Hwb more often because our regional consortia have told us it's apparently safer. "I've been on a course and was told that Google wasn't safe", is the comment I'm hearing from teachers....still. Apparently it’s going to be made ‘safer’ once it’s inside the Hwb platform! My response to this is to now tell teachers if they hear this comment, ask the person exactly what they mean by 'safer' and also to email them after the meeting asking for a written explanation. And this to me is the crux. Local authorities and regional consortia appear to be happy to have the uncertainty being generated through word of mouth about safety, but no one in a position of authority would ever have the confidence to stand up in front of all head teachers or write to all schools expressing the same concerns and telling them not to use this. They know they would be on shaky ground to say the least.

My final point is around clarity on what files are ‘allowed’ to be hosted in the cloud. There is still a concern that sensitive data shouldn’t be uploaded. Here are my basic thoughts around this. I don’t pretend to be a data security expert, but here’s me thinking out loud. Always dangerous :-)

Are OneDrive or Google Drive servers secure? I believe so. Both those companies hold vast amounts of data of the most sensitive nature for organisations and companies around the world. I’m not saying that they are not open to the most sophisticated of hackers, I’m certain that there are countries and individuals who regularly attempt to hack them. But I’m confident that there is the expertise at both Microsoft and Google who do everything to protect my data. If there was a major breach of data from either of these companies, then that would have a serious impact on their reputation. Look at what has just happened with the reputation of Facebook and that wasn’t even a data breach of the type I described above.

If I didn’t believe that OneDrive or Google Drive servers are secure where would I hold my school sensitive data? Most schools would save this to their school internal network server.

How secure is this? I was told of a recent conversation between a head teacher and a local authority ‘techy’ who laughed when the head teacher said he’d store sensitive data on the school network. His reason for laughing was that it is much easier for someone to break into your school and steal the server than it was for someone to break into Microsoft or Google data centres and steal their servers! Even if they did, I understand that Google for instance break up the data across several data centres. In the past I’ve also talked to schools whose servers have crashed and weren’t backed up properly and lost most of their files....just before an Estyn inspection!

Whether you think cloud storage is safe or whether your school server is safer, what’s the weakest part of this system? In my opinion it’s the user. It doesn’t matter how secure your system is from sophisticated hacking, the easiest way to get into any system is ‘through the front door’. If I know your username and password then I have access to your stuff, whether it’s in the cloud or on your network. I’ve just introduced two factor authentication across all my Google and G Suite accounts to provide an extra level of security. Something that G Suite for Education schools can introduce now which provides another level of ‘front door’ security that Hwb users don’t have.

So, the point of the previous questions was to think about how secure are your systems when saving sensitive data. It can be argued that the cloud storage system is equally (if not greatly) more secure than your school network. However, both have the problem that humans are the weakest link. A couple of school examples:
  • Usernames and passwords to login to the school network or various online platforms on Post-It notes stuck to monitors or laptops. I think that a quick look inside the front cover of many teacher notebooks or field notes, which are often on a desk, can also often reveal these details too!
  • USB pen drives moving a variety of data (sensitive or not) between home and school. Always the issue of these being lost in transit or corrupted.
  • Staff logged into the network or online platforms and not fully logging out when away from their machines.Interestingly, I've noticed that if a user logs out of Hwb but doesn't shut down the browser, if someone else logs in, sometimes the previous users O365 account will be accessible not yours.
  • Usernames and passwords stored in the web browser. If I go to the landing page of many online platforms in a school, the teacher will have stored their details allowing me to login as them.
  • Pupils knowing and using the teachers username and password.
In my opinion, much of what we’re talking about here is just about getting into the habit of good data security practice. Not just digitally but also making sure that any sensitive paper based materials are locked away securely and not pinned to notice boards in the staffroom or classroom!

So, what would I like to see that would help to lower head teacher stress levels?
  • A simple and concise overview of GDPR, implications for schools and what they need to do. Good advice and support is urgently needed as head teachers are very unsure who to turn to for this.
  • A clear steer on whether cloud platform storage is ‘safe’ or not, regardless of whether it is through Hwb OneDrive or Google Drive. If we agree that these are safe and secure, is there still an issue with what’s being uploaded?
Please, let’s cut out rumours being spread once and for all and for the appropriate education authorities to provide some clarity to schools on GDPR and cloud storage.

Friday, 1 December 2017

Rolling Out Google - Rolling In Hwb+

This week we finally got confirmation from the Welsh Government of the Google for Education implementation into Hwb, the end of the Learning Possibilities Hwb+ virtual learning platform and further investment in school broadband. Kirsty Williams, cabinet secretary for education, is quoted as saying:
"We want our teachers to have access to the best digital tools and resources and the best quality superfast broadband. We have listened to the feedback we’ve been receiving from schools and I’m very pleased that, as a result of their feedback, we will be rolling out Google for Education in 2018. This will give our teachers a much wider range of digital tools and resources and will lead to greater collaboration and communication within the classroom."
No date for the implementation was mentioned, only that teachers will "soon have more choice about the digital tools they use". As I outlined in my post at the end of October, it looks like G Suite for Education will probably be brought in April 2018, albeit without GMail. This caveat causing much comment among colleagues and slight concerns for the functionality of the G Suite platform within Hwb (see comments at end of the October post). I still can't imagine existing G Suite for Edu schools moving their data for Hwb to manage, for several reasons. However, for those schools who are currently using Hwb O365 with their pupils I predict there will be a big move towards the use of G Suite, especially when they see how easy it is to use Google Classroom. This brings me neatly onto Hwb+.

As some of you are aware, I've been blogging about Hwb+ for some time now. It's been pretty clear for at least the last two years that its days were numbered. Hwb / Hwb+ were launched with much fanfare in December 2012 with it being heralded as transforming the way schools "communicate with learners and their parents, through their own Hwb+ individual learning platforms." At the time, education minister, Leighton Andrews, spoke of a "world class system" and Hwb+ being described as a secure area which only schools and colleges(?) can access. However, the hype certainly didn't live up to the experience in schools. Eight digital leaders were employed by the Hwb team to support its roll out across Wales. I have a lot of time for these men and women and each deserve a medal the size of dinner plates because their their job was difficult to say the least. It was their role to deliver training to key members staff from each school in Wales, typically the ICT coordinator and head teacher. If my memory serves me well, this was carried out over about four days. I don't think it would be too unfair to say that the majority of ICT coordinators leaving the training never went near Hwb+ again. Not because of the training, but because of the tool itself. I attended the training and left with a 120 page book on how to use the platform. A book that I would have to refer to to carry out the simplest of tasks, e.g. insert a video, upload a photograph. I like to think of myself as fairly computer savvy, but I struggled. This certainly wasn't a platform that was intuitive. In my opinion the 'Hwb brand' was severely tarnished after the round of training and has taken some time to recover. Some could argue that the contracting of CDSM to redevelop the Hwb platform and with the introduction of new tools, might have rescued the project for the Welsh Government, if not breathed some life back into it. About 18 months ago the digital leaders contracts finished, removing what expertise there was in showing schools how to effectively manage and use Hwb+. Local and regional consortia seemed to refocus onto Just2Easy, Microsoft O365 and a variety of other new tools, with little input on Hwb+. Tools such as Hwb Classes were being introduced and then in June this year the announcement of Hwb+ workshops to "explore the current use of the Hwb+ learning platform" and wanting to "hear your views". All building to the announcement this week on the non-renewal of the Hwb+ contract when it runs out in August 2018. I don't think there'll be too many tears from schools in Wales at its demise. 

A final note on this saga - the cost. I've been scouring the web to find some reference to the cost to the Welsh Government of procuring this platform, but with no luck. However, looking at the figures available on this Welsh Government website, up until June of this year just over £8million has been paid out to Learning Possibilities. By next August I estimate this figure will be around the £9million. Maths was never my strong point, but that's what the spreadsheets seem to indicate. As far as I can tell that doesn't include the costs of the digital leaders who supported the project which would probably add another £1million to this figure. I'm sure some people will be looking closely at whether Hwb+ was value for money. 

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Statutory DCF?

Once or twice during my recent visits to schools, confusion has arisen over whether the Digital Competence Framework is a statutory document or not. I've always explained that unlike the literacy and numeracy frameworks, it is not. I've posted below something on this from the National Digital Learning Council minutes from June 22nd 2017.

Jane Peffers - Welsh Government lead for the DCF was presenting to the NDLC on the Digital Competence Framework:
4.5 The potential for the DCF to be made statutory was raised. At this time, this is considered unlikely and it is hoped that encouraging its use, rather than prescribing it, will support and encourage a more significant change in culture, for teachers to adapt to the new ways of working.

Monday, 23 October 2017

Hwb / G Suite for Education Announcement

Last Monday, Chris Owen (head of digital learning unit, Welsh Government) announced at a Google Leadership Symposium in Cardiff, that G Suite for Education will be included in the Hwb platform possibly from April 2018. For those schools in the room this was great news, many feeling finally vindicated that their Google approach to developing cloud student learning was finally being recognised by the Welsh Government. Up until this announcement, several local authorities and regional consortia had made it quite clear to schools in their areas that they didn't want them using G Suite for Education, that basically Hwb was the only show in town and Google "wasn't safe".

Chris Owen - Google Leadership Symposium, Cardiff

As you might have picked up from my previous posts, that's fine as long as what is being provided through Hwb are the best set of digital tools and resources that are available. In some instances this has arguably not been the case. Hwb+ being the prime example of an 'online classroom' that certainly didn't live up to the expectations of the majority of teachers across Wales and most probably the expectations of the Welsh Government themselves. I would argue too, that the version of Microsoft Office 365 provided through Hwb, quite possibly hasn't provided the sort of collaborative opportunities that was hoped. My own experience and also that of others, is that it feels 'clunky' to use, prone to glitches and I still think that the browser based tools (Word, PowerPoint, etc) are an after thought. I'm sure Microsoft would rather you used a locally installed version of Office! Microsoft Teams has just been introduced as a way of pulling teacher and student communication and collaboration together but in my opinion it's a bit late coming into the game and again initial impressions are that it's a bit 'clunky'. Google Classroom on the other hand, has been a game changer in the schools using G Suite. Chris Owen particularly highlighted this tool and interestingly Google Sites during his announcement.

So what did Chris Owen announce?

- G Suite for Education would be included in the Hwb work stream and that they are looking for a possible April 2018 launch.
- The version of G Suite for Education available through Hwb, would not include GMail.
- Schools that are currently using G Suite for Education could have their data transferred into the Hwb domain. These schools would then sign into Hwb to gain access to G Suite and all other tools and resources (except GMail).
- The G Suite 'Admin Panel' would still be available to those schools who wanted it. Some features would not be available but much of the control would still be there, including the ability to add users and control passwords.
- Hwb are working with Google to get the core set of apps translated into Welsh.

I think I've covered the main points, apologies to Chris Owen if I've missed something. I'm still waiting to see an official announcement via the Dysg newsletter. After having a week to mull this over and I'm sure I'll be coming back to it, here are my initial thoughts.

- For schools already actively using the Hwb platform, I think this is really good news. You will now have access to Google Classroom and associated cloud tools like Docs, Sheets and Slides. This should really help you in addressing many aspects of the Digital Competence Framework.
- If you are an existing user of G Suite for Education would you really hand over control to Hwb? My feeling is that schools would be reluctant. I spoke to three schools at the symposium and all said that the announcement made no difference to them. They would carry on as they have been and would not be 'handing over the keys'. Schools would lose GMail in particular which is an integral part of communication for them. The Welsh Government want all schools within Hwb to be using Outlook mail through O365, because it has been through thorough 'certifications'??
- This issue around O365 Outlook and no GMail would have to be carefully explained to schools, local authorities and regional consortia or they could be again giving the impression that Google is "not safe" for schools to use.
- As well as existing schools losing GMail, I would be concerned that some of the functionality would be lost in handing over control to Hwb. For instance, will I still be able to set up my own groups allowing me to easily share documents to all of my teachers or SLT? Something that you currently are unable to do through O365 within Hwb. Ease of use and functionality is one of the reasons schools like using G Suite over the Hwb O365 tools. I really hope this isn't lost during the integration into Hwb.
- If, as Chris Owen mentioned, schools can set up users within the Admin Panel, does that mean the new user has access to the whole of Hwb? That would seem strange as currently the platform is mainly only available to those who work in schools (teachers / support staff), pupils and individuals from regional consortia and local authorities.
- Nothing mentioned about the possibility of single sign on to many other web platforms that schools may subscribe to, e.g. Giglets, 2 Simple's Purple Mash, Times Tables Rockstars, Reading Eggs to name but a few. Wouldn't this make life much easier for schools if they could login to one place and access all their online tools? Is this too difficult to set up?

So, in my opinion, a really positive move by the Welsh Government to include G Suite within Hwb. It's obviously still very early days but many will be watching events closely, with their fingers crossed and hoping that what is eventually delivered meets everyone's hopes.

Friday, 21 July 2017

DigComp Update

Back in June 2015 I wrote a post about the announcement from the then Welsh education minister, Huw Lewis, about the introduction of a new Digital Competence Framework (DCF) for schools in Wales. As many of you will know, that framework has since been written and is beginning to be implemented in schools across Wales. In the post, I provided a list to several digital literacy or competence frameworks already in place across many countries, highlighting to the digital pioneer schools who were writing the framework that they didn't have to start from nothing and that they didn't necessarily have to 'reinvent the wheel'. Therefore it was interesting to see this morning an update to one of the frameworks mentioned.

The European Digital Competence Framework for Citizens, also known as DigComp, was first published in 2013 and "consists of detailed descriptions of all competences that are necessary to be proficient in digital environments and describes them in terms of knowledge, skills, and attitudes." DigComp 2.1, published in May 2017, now focuses on expanding the initial three proficiency levels to a more fine-grained eight level description as well as providing examples of use for these eight levels. Note that this particular framework is not necessarily aimed at schools, but are competencies that are applicable for all people. Examples are highlighted for school and the workplace. The framework is split into these five competencies (I've also included the Digital Competence Framework strands and elements as a comparison):

Digital Competence Framework - Wales DigComp 2.1
Identity, image and reputation
Health and well-being
Digital rights, licensing and ownership
Online behaviour and cyberbullying
1.0 Information & Data Literacy:
1.1 Browsing, searching and filtering data, information and digital content
1.2 Evaluating data, information and digital content
1.3 Managing data, information and digital content
Interacting & Collaborating
Storing and sharing
2.0 Communication & Collaboration
2.1 Interacting through digital technologies
2.2 Sharing through digital technologies
2.3 Engaging in citizenship through digital technologies
2.4 Collaborating through digital technologies
2.5 Netiquette
2.6 Managing digital identity
Planning, sourcing and searching
Evaluating and improving
3.0 Digital Content Creation
3.1 Developing digital content
3.2 Integrating and re-elaborating digital content
3.3 Copyright and licenses
3.4 Programming
Data & Computational Thinking
Problem solving and modelling
Data and information literacy
4.0 Safety
4.1 Protecting devices
4.2 Protecting personal data and privacy
4.3 Protecting health and well-being
4.4 Protecting the environment
5.0 Problem Solving
5.1 Solving technical problems
5.2 Identifying needs and technical responses
5.3 Creatively using digital technology
5.4 Identifying digital competence gaps

A quick comparison highlights similarities between the two frameworks, especially around Interacting & Collaborating /Communication & Collaboration; Producing / Digital Content Creation. In fact, if you look at the variety of frameworks mentioned in that previous post, these are very common to all and not surprising that they were included in the DCF.

One thing I do particularly like about the DigComp framework is that the competence descriptors, similar to the Citizenship elements of the DCF, are spread out between the competencies. This in my opinion provides a better context for the learning of these increasingly important skills. Currently schools are being encouraged to use a range of resources from the South West Grid for Learning and Common Sense Media to support the Citizenship strand. As many people are saying (including myself), "You don't even need to use a computer to teach the Citizenship strand." This is because these lesson plans from Common Sense Media, very much have a PSE approach in their class delivery. However, as I go on to explain to schools, what is the point of learning about this strand if you're not going to then model what you've learned in context? For example, '3.3 Copyright and licenses' relate closely to the 'Digital rights, licensing and ownership' element of the DCF. However, the DigComp framework places this within the '3.0 Digital Content Creation' competence, arguably the natural place to learn about ownership and digital rights. Likewise 'Online behaviour and cyberbullying' and 'Identity, image and reputation' from the DCF could be developed through the 'Interacting and Collaborating' strand of the DCF. Here, while using a variety of communication and collaboration tools, pupils can look at how they are managing their identity, netiquette and engaging in citizenship through digital technologies. In my opinion it would be more helpful to teachers to have placed those Citizenship elements into the other strands. DCF could then look something like this:

Interacting & Collaborating
Online behaviour and cyberbullying
Identity, image and reputation
Storing and sharing

Planning, sourcing and searching
Digital rights, licensing and ownership
Evaluating and improving

Data & Computational Thinking
Problem solving and modelling
Data and information literacy

Mmm....not too sure where 'Health and well-being' would go.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Digital Competence / Computer Science - Refreshing Views

It was interesting to read this on the BBC news website a couple of weeks ago, 'Computing in schools - alarm bells over England's classes.' At the heart of the report is that experts are concerned that since the introduction of the computing curriculum in England, there has only been a modest rise in students taking the new computer science GCSE. By 2020, the British Computer Society warns that the number studying for a computing qualification could halve. The other major concern is that only 20% of the entrants were girls, down from around 40% taking the previous ICT qualification. There were those at the time who were concerned with the change in focus of the curriculum and talked of, 'throwing the baby out with the bathwater'.  As Drew Buddie says in the BBC article, he felt that ICT was unfairly maligned and was far more creative than its critics assumed, and that "it is clear that many 14-to-17-year-old students, particularly girls, are not attracted to such a specific and narrow course." To be fair, digital literacy and ICT elements are still in the English curriculum but all the emphasis appears to have gone into the coding aspect. This was pretty apparent during my recent visit to the Computing at Schools conference in Birmingham, where the overwhelming majority of keynotes and workshops were focused on coding, with little input on the other aspects of the computing curriculum.

"Learning Computer Science is surprisingly hard." - CAS Conference, Birmingham 2017.
I've written a some of posts over the last couple of years mentioning my concerns with the pressure that I could see coming from different quarters (including the BBC) for the introduction to coding. I have no problem with its introduction but wanted a sensible balance between it and digital literacy (see The Balance Between Coding and Digital Literacy and Restoring The Balance). Yesterday I listened to a presentation by a teacher who was involved with the development of the DCF (digital competence framework) and who is one of the digital pioneers working on the new curriculum. It was refreshing to hear him express similar views to myself. He talked about the importance of DCF for all our students, that being digital competent was an essential part of all our lives. He explained to attendees that coding is not mentioned in the DCF (although Computational Thinking is) and that computer science will be part of the new Science and Technology area of learning and experience. I precis what he said somewhat, but basically being digitally competent is essential for all our young people, whereas computer science only appeals to a small number of students who then hopefully go on to become coders. If his views are similar to the rest of the digital pioneers, hopefully we will have the right balance in Wales.

Friday, 7 July 2017

NDLC Minutes Provide Glimpse of Hwb+ 'Future'

Update to my last post Hwb+-Another Nail in the Coffin? As I've said previously, I do like to read through the agenda and minutes of the National Digital Learning Council meetings. These are freely available to the public on the Hwb website. Below you will find a section from the minutes dated 4th April, 2017:

5.7 The Hwb+ / provisioning contract with Learning Possibilities ends on 31 August 2018 and there is no contract extension option. Officials are already exploring exit strategy arrangements to ensure continuity of service specifically around the provisioning service which underpins the user authentication for all Hwb services.

5.8 CO (Chris Owen, Welsh Government) outlined the current thinking around the next phase of the provisioning, authentication and user management for LiDW users. NDLC members stressed the importance of ensuring the replacement service offered high-availability levels as this is such a pivotal element of the programme. CO confirmed that this was fully understood and already part of the planning.

5.9 The other aspect of the contract with Learning Possibilities is the delivery of Hwb+, the individual school’s learning platform. Statistics indicate that there are low numbers of schools in Wales demonstrating embedded use of Hwb+ (e.g. 30 learners logging in once a day).

5.10 It was agreed that a sub-group of NDLC members would be established to explore options for engaging with stakeholders over their use of the Hwb+ platform. This information would be used to inform the next steps and to present options to the Cabinet Secretary for Education.

5.11 Any change in provision needs to be carefully managed and the Welsh Government will work closely with schools to minimise any disruption at the end of the current Learning Possibilities contract.

5.12 NDLC members queried whether a learning platform was required as blending the centrally offered services such as Hwb, J2e and Office 365 now potentially provides a range of suitable options. This will be considered as part of the engagement with stakeholders.

5.13 A draft stakeholder survey which would seek to find out what worked well and what didn’t work so well with Hwb+ is one option to engage.

What have we learned from these minutes?
- No contract extension option for Hwb+ or their provisioning tool and officials are exploring exit strategy options. *The provisioning tool is the software (owned by Learning Possibilities) that sits in each local authority and creates the user accounts from schools SIMS data.*
- The NDLC noted how pivotal that provisioning tool is to the success of the programme. Any change needs to be 'carefully managed' to minimise disruption at the end of the Learning Possibilities contract. *This provisioning tool is in my opinion, certainly core to the success of the programme. I mentioned in a comment exchange on my last post that I felt the real success of the programme had been to get all users accounts set up for staff and pupils across Wales. If WG are not careful, any disruption to that 'continuity of service' could/will damage Hwb's reputation.*
- A low number of schools using Hwb+. *As I've said, it's a platform that certainly hasn't been at the top of my 'top 10 learning platforms', but it's been interesting to observe the way support to schools in its use, appears to have been withdrawn over the last couple of years. It's been a slow death.*
- Survey to seek what worked well and what didn't work so well. *We now know that a survey is one option and the regional workshops are another.*

Friday, 30 June 2017

Hwb+ - Another Nail in the Coffin?

This post on the Hwb News page caught my eye this afternoon. In early July, the Welsh Government (WG) are running four Hwb+ Workshops to "explore the current use of the Hwb+ learning platform" and wanting to "hear your views" before planning the next steps in the LiDW programme. If you've read some of my previous posts about Hwb+ you'll know I've never been its biggest fan and in 'Gazing Into My Crystal Ball', suggested that maybe the contract for Hwb+ wouldn't be renewed. Dare I propose that the only reason these workshops are being held by the WG is that they already have a very good idea what the feedback from schools will be like - overwhelmingly negative. Therefore it appears that these events are an opportunity to gather further evidence of why the contract with Learning Possibilities for Hwb+ shouldn't be renewed in August 2018. I'd be extremely surprised, in fact astonished, if a different outcome arose from these events and from the national Hwb+ stakeholder online survey. This is another nail in the coffin for Hwb+. There was the loss of the Hwb Digital Leaders who initially supported schools in its national implementation; the ability to create classes and assignments within the Hwb platform and a perceived lack of regional consortia encouragement to schools to use Hwb+, focusing their efforts on other Hwb tools, therefore starving it of support. All of which, in my opinion, has helped to contribute to it probable demise. It will be interesting to see what happens over the next couple of months.
BTW, I can't seem to remember a similar set of LiDW workshops being run for the other tools available in Hwb - Office 365, J2e, Encyclopedia Britannica ;-)

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Hwb J2launch and OneDrive Files?

In my recent meetings with primary schools, inevitably our discussions will turn to the evidencing and marking of pupils work. More pupil work is now being completed online through tools such as Office 365 and J2e (via the Hwb platform), along with G Suite for Education and 2Simple's Purple Mash. Therefore how does a teacher easily find and mark work when it's being held in two or more different places? Especially if you factor in that pupil's work could also be held on the school network and on individual iPads. It's all a bit 'messy' to say the least. Recently I've been looking at j2launch which is part of the Just2easy set of tools and freely available to all schools in Wales via the Hwb platform. J2launch is a Content Management System (CMS) within J2e. Work created online using the many J2e tools is automatically stored here along with any other file type you'd like to upload. Files can be searched for and organised using folders. All done, in my opinion, very easily.

Teacher view of pupil files in j2launch. Uploaded PDFs and a J2e5 resource

It was simple to upload a video file created on my iPad and some Comic Life PDFs. Once in j2launch, teachers can assess pupil work against the literacy and numeracy framework and the digital competence framework statements. Teachers are also able to, among other features, engage the pupil in a learning conversation and create a QR code to share the work with others. All very impressive. However I do have a gripe. I would love to be able to see my pupils files stored in OneDrive in j2launch. I would then have Office365 files (Word, PowerPoint, Excel Online), J2e files and any other uploaded files all in one place, with the ability to assess, feedback and share pupil work. If my understanding is correct, a school that had bought J2e would have the ability to single sign on with their Office365 or G Suite for Education account. OneDrive and Google Drive files will then appear in j2launch allowing for marking, etc as described above. However, that option doesn't seem to be possible with the version available to schools through Hwb. That's a pity. I think teachers (and pupils) in Wales would find it really helpful if this version offered that solution. It would make the assessment and feedback of pupil's digital work, created on different platforms, so much easier.

Monday, 21 November 2016

The Beginning of the End?

Every week I receive the 'Welsh Government pre-11 Dysg Newsletter' via email. In Issue 156 (9th November) my eye was drawn to the 'Hwb Classes Guide' link ( Basically from within the Hwb platform - My Groups area, users can now create their own class area (much like they can in the Hwb Communities area) but can now invite pupils in and share digital resources with them such as Playlists, documents and take part in discussions. Not a full range of social learning tools as yet, but perhaps that's not a million miles away? Back in March I 'gazed into the crystal ball' and predicted the demise of the Hwb+ element of the Hwb platform. With this development are we seeing the beginning of the end for Hwb+? 

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Draft Digital Competence Framework Out For Consultation

Don't know how I missed this but the draft digital competence framework is now available via the Learning Wales website. An opportunity for most schools to look at the framework in detail for the first time and to provide feedback to the Welsh Government via the online questionnaire. I really encourage you to read it and send your response back as soon as possible. You only have until July 4th to get your responses in! I'm going to have a look in detail over the weekend and will post something here soon.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Google Apps for Education Event / Chromebook Events

On the morning of Tuesday 17th May I'm hosting, along with my colleagues from C-Learning, a Google Apps for Education event at The Village Hotel, Cardiff. The event is aimed at both primary and secondary school phases and there will be presentations from two secondary schools and two primary schools. I'm going to give a short presentation on how I see Google Apps for Education fitting into the new digital competence framework, especially around 'connecting and collaborating' and 'citizenship'. There'll also be the opportunity to find out more about Chrome devices and approaches to cloud infrastructure in schools. I'd love to see both schools who are currently using Google Apps and schools who are wanting to find out more about this technology come to this. A good opportunity to 'network' with like minded schools. The booking form can be accessed here -

I'm also hosting a Chrome device twilight session at Mayals Primary School in Swansea on Tuesday 3rd May. Please feel free to drop in between 3.45 and 5.00pm and find out more about these devices and how they can support your use of cloud technologies.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Update To 'Gazing Into My Crystal Ball'

An quick update on my last post 'Gazing Into My Crystal Ball' which was about concerns raised by some ICT coordinators regarding the future of the Hwb+/Hwb platform in Wales and what may or may not happen to these platforms. I've been having a look at the National Digital Learning Council's latest minutes from a meeting in October 2015. A couple of references to Hwb+ and Hwb which may clarify some points:

2.6 - CB (Chris Britten) highlighted concerns regarding the end of the three year Hwb contract in August 2018. CO (Chris Owen) stated that there is a full commitment for the platform to continue until that time. There are a range of options being considered around the ongoing management of the digital tools offered through Hwb after this date.

2.10 - CO highlighted the recent Hwb Stakeholder workshop which took place in Cardiff Bay on 23 September. ST (Sian Thomas) attended, noting that this was a good opportunity to talk about Hwb, rather than focussing solely on Hwb+ and remarked at the overall positive attitude regarding the direction of the Hwb platform developments. CO confirmed that the outcomes of the workshop will feed directly into future developments of the platform and that if any members have comments that they wish to put forward regarding the platform, to submit these via the Hwb mailbox (

2.11 - The current contract for the content element of Hwb is due to cease in January 2016. However, pending Ministerial approval, the plan is to re-contract and bring this in line with the Hwb+ contract to August 2018.

2.16 - CO highlighted the reduction in Hwb Digital Leaders from eight to five this year. The Hwb Team are currently working to develop plans with regional consortia to ensure that there is capacity to support schools ‘on the ground’ – potentially linked to current grants that they are already receiving.

I'd definitely recommend to schools to look at the NDLC minutes as this is quite an influential group in providing educational technology advice to the Welsh Government. 

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Gazing Into My Crystal Ball

Recently, an interesting question has been raised separately by two ICT co-ordinators. The question they both asked me was, "Will Hwb+ still be here in three years time?" Not being privy to the discussions that could be going on in Welsh Government, I was unable to give them a definitive answer. I certainly have my own opinions of the platform in question, one that is also regularly echoed by almost every ICT co-ordinator or head teacher I talk to. Let's just kindly say that this Microsoft Sharepoint based learning platform is probably not the most intuitive of systems for teachers to use. For example, digital leaders employed by the Welsh Government spent about three days training myself and colleagues on using it, and at the end of the three days I still didn't feel confident that I could insert a Youtube video into a page, or photo, without having to refer to a 140 page book. This was no reflection on the digital leaders who were delivering the training, it was in my opinion a problem with the complexity of the product. The training we had was the same as the training that school ICT co-ordinators from across Wales experienced. This in turn, I believe, affected schools view of Hwb. There was a confusion between the Hwb+ platform (created by Learning Possibilities) and the Hwb platform created by CDSM. In October I wrote about the confusion I was encountering when speaking to schools about this. I also believe that the Hwb 'brand' was tarnished by the Hwb+ training episode. Perhaps that brand is now slowly recovering? Going back to the initial question raised by the co-ordinators, I did ask what they had heard, and was told that they believed the Hwb+ contract wasn't going to be renewed. I did say that all I knew was that the LP and CDSM contracts were aligned and that in about three years both contracts would be looked at again for renewal and that I hadn't heard anything about what may or may not happen. Three years is still quite far away, and lots can change.

However, after reflecting upon their question, I'm going to gaze into my crystal ball, make a wild stab in the dark and come up with a prediction (or two). In three years time I believe the Hwb+ contract won't be renewed, but the Hwb element will be. It would make sense as CDSM who as I've said develop the Hwb platform, have a background in online learning platforms. That platform would then be more integral to the rest of the Hwb tools. However, an alternative prediction would be that Microsoft come up with a freely available and easy to use, classroom delivery solution of their own. This would need to be integrated with O365 through Hwb, in a similar way that Google Apps for Education has done with the excellent Google Classroom. This last solution could save the Welsh Government an awful lot of money. Who needs Mystic Meg? :-)

Thursday, 10 March 2016

3D Computer Modelling Apps

I've always had quite a soft spot for digital 3D computer modelling. In a previous post I talked about the work I used to do with schools in using the Bamzooki software. This Windows software allowed pupils to create 3D creatures or ‘zooks’ to their own designs and then battle them against other zooks or against a series of strength, speed or agility tests. When I was creating my new ICT scheme, I was particularly looking for a tablet app (iPad and Android) that would do a similar thing. I eventually came across Autodesk Tinkerplay which allows the user to create and pose the characters in a 3D environment, colour them, add texture to the parts and then place them in a scene. You can then take a picture of the scene which can be used as part of another project. The character you create can also be printed off on a 3D printer. I know that not many schools actually have a 3D printer but you could send the files off to be printed for you if you so wished (or ask your local friendly secondary school?)

Yesterday I noticed that the Tinkerplay app was inviting you to download a new app called ThingMaker, which I did. It looks like this app has been developed in partnership with Mattel the toy manufacturer. The app has a couple of new features including parts to make jewellery such as bracelets, necklaces, and rings. If you look at the ThingMaker video below then you will see they are also about to release their own 3D printer to go along with the app. It will be interesting to see how much that’s going to cost. I'm sure that in the future Mattel will be adding further parts to this app to encourage users to create more objects.

Have a look at the video I've made below demoing both apps. I think they’re really good at developing 3D modelling in the primary classroom. What do you think?

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

First Time for Everything

There's a first time for everything. Today I bought myself my first ever Windows laptop. Obviously I've been provided with them in my role in previous jobs, but I've never had to actually buy one myself. I basically wanted a relatively cheap laptop that I could use to get to grips with Windows 10, install any Windows software that schools might be using, and possibly install Open Office or LibreOffice for productivity stuff. So I've ended up with an Acer Aspire F15, charcoal black, 8Gb of RAM and 2 TB hard drive. It should do a job. However, while trying to purchase it, I was interrogated by the shop assistant. A barrage of questions with the obvious intention of getting me to buy add ons. "What are you using it for?" "You say you are using the cloud, what are you using?" But it was the question about what antivirus software I was going to use that finally got my back up. At this point I wanted to say, "Just give me the bloody laptop", but instead told him that this was one of the many reasons I particularly disliked Windows machines, that I'd be downloading free antivirus software, and that in fact I'd rarely be using this device. To me it was like buying a car and being told that seat belts are an optional extra! Perhaps I've just been lucky with my two Macbook Pros, but I've never had any virus / malware problem in over 10 years of using them. The only time I've ever experienced a computer virus was on an old, home Windows desktop. If Windows based machines seem to be more susceptible to virus / malware issues then build antivirus blockers into them, I don't see why I should pay extra. Give me a Chromebook or Macbook any day! Rant over :-)

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Breaking the Internet


Yesterday I ran an inset day for staff at a primary school. The aim of the day was to introduce my cloud based ICT scheme of work. This normally involves firstly talking to staff about digital competence, as it's been written in a way that I believe will address the new digital competence areas. I then plan in an opportunity to log into the cloud platforms mentioned in the scheme and look at some of the available tools. In this particular school the focus was on Office 365 and J2E, both of which are available through the Hwb platform. First part of the morning ran smoothly until we all tried logging onto Hwb. Internet access ground virtually to a standstill. Pages were taking an age to load, if they loaded at all. So, here am I talking about moving much of the school's ICT curriculum to the cloud and about 28 people in an ICT suite bought the internet to a complete halt in the school. Very frustrating and disappointing. However, the staff were understanding, and amazingly patient with the difficulties we were experiencing. I must have struggled to demonstrate O365 for about 45 mins until I made the decision to bring that section to a premature end. Now just imagine that I was doing that with a class of pupils. How long would I have struggled until I stopped the lesson and did something else, 10 minutes? Poor internet access is still a problem in some schools I visit, especially the more rural ones. I'm anticipating that the new digital competence framework is going to strongly highlight on-line communication and collaboration, but how are schools in the same position as this one, going to be able to deliver aspects of it effectively? The staff in the school told me that this was what their internet access was like and today's problems were not unique. This really isn't fair for the them or the pupils in that school or others in a similar situation. In the afternoon they did 'double up' to share a computer with someone else and we were able to successfully access and use the J2E platform. But doubling up so that only about 15 users were accessing the internet should not be the answer, especially in a room that had enough computers for everyone.

I can see some challenges for schools when they introduce the framework from September, and underpinning it all I believe is the need for schools to have a reliable, robust and resilient infrastructure. If that's not in place then in my opinion it's going to be difficult for some schools to implement aspects of the framework effectively. Schools, local authorities and the Welsh Government really need to work together to find a solution for schools experiencing these internet issues. The Learning in Digital Wales (LiDW) grants from the Welsh Government was amongst other things, meant to address broadband and WiFi issues in schools. But as can be seen from my experience yesterday, it hasn't been very successful in all cases. Here's my list of some of the pinch points for schools that I think need addressing if the implementation of framework is going to be a success:

- Reliable, robust and resilient infrastructure (Internet, WiFi, network, devices)
- Enough digital technologies
- Appropriate digital technologies
- Staff digital competence to confidently deliver the framework

Anyone else out there in schools who find they regularly 'break the internet'?

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Developing Communication With Purple Mash 2Email

Spent some time today looking at a relatively new feature available in 2Simple's Purple Mash platform. 2Email is basically a safe place to teach young children how to use email. The interface comes in two 'flavours', one for the foundation phase (KS1) and the other for KS2. Each being tailored for those groups (see images below)

Foundation Phase Interface
KS2 Interface
Teachers can set class permissions on where emails can be sent - to others across the school, to teachers, or to their pupils in their class. Teachers can also 'approve' each email that a child may want to send. Therefore lots of control over how you want your class to use it. There is also a 'Report to teacher' option if a pupil receives an email that is inappropriate. This email is then deleted from the child's email and the teacher is alerted and can view it (and the email conversation) from their email account. A very neat feature.

If you don't want pupils emailing each other, there are the 2Respond Activities within 2Email. This allows the pupil to have an email exchange with a character. For example, an email exchange at KS2 with Zara who emails the pupil firstly asking for a list of labels that are needed for a classroom play area. The pupil replies and Zara then sends another email asking about the some rules for playing in this area.

2Respond Activity - Class Room
In the foundation phase an animated dog walks across the screen when an email is sent, and pops up at the bottom of the screen when an email is received. Pupils are also able to use the address book and send emails to various characters such as 'Dragon', 'Genie', 'Queen', 'Little Red Riding Hood' and 'Wolf'. Once an email has been sent they can then 'Switch to Practice User' and become that character and send a message back.
Some of the characters in the address book
In my opinion this tool is quite a nice way to practice using email functions. Everything is there for the pupils, address books, cc, subject line, the message body, forward, sent, favourites, draft and deleted box. You can even attach pictures or your Purple Mash files which the recipient can preview! With the new Digital Competence Framework on the horizon, it looks like it could be quite a valuable resource to those schools using Purple Mash and wanting to develop the communication and collaboration aspect but maybe are afraid to do this with younger pupils using other cloud technologies.

Monday, 1 February 2016

Digital Competence Framework Update - Competence Headings

Since September 2015, Digital Pioneer Schools from across Wales have been involved in the development of the new Digital Competence Framework. This framework will be available to all schools in Wales from September 2016. If you've read any of my previous posts on Digital Competence you would have seen that there has been much work done in this field already by many organisations around the world. Therefore we could take an informed guess as to aspects that would be covered in any newly developed framework. I made a stab at this sometime ago, coming up with:

Digital Citizenship / eSafety
Communication and Collaboration

Solving Problems and Thinking Critically
Creativity and Innovation

These are basically the 'strand' headings to my ICT scheme which many schools are now using. A colleague of mine has just pointed me in the direction of a presentation on the Welsh Government website that does show the headings that the Digital Pioneer Schools are now working to:

Using, Collecting, Collaborating
Data and Computational Thinking
Researching, Making and Creating

As it says on the presentation, these titles could eventually change, but I'm pleased that I was pretty close. The devil is now in the detail, and I really look forward to seeing how this is broken down year by year as in the literacy and numeracy frameworks.

Sunday, 31 January 2016

Google Cardboard

Just bought myself a Google Cardboard viewer. If you've never heard of Google Cardboard then basically it's a relatively cheap and simple way for a user to experience virtual reality. The viewer was purchased on Amazon for £10.99 and took me about 5 mins to assemble. The duck tape is you can see in the photos is just there to strengthen some areas. You download the Google Cardboard app to your smartphone, calibrate it to the viewer via a QR code and it's ready to use. Your smartphone is inserted into the back of the viewer, and the display is split into two images (one for each eye). The result is a stereoscopic 3D image. It reminds me a little of the ViewMaster toy I loved as a child! But Google Cardboard brings that idea up to date, allowing you to take your own 360 degree images. Move your head to the left or right, or turn around to see the whole scene. I've been taking 360 degree photos via my Android smartphone for some time, and viewed through this they become very immersive. The Google Cardboard Camera app also allows you to quickly take a 360 degree panorama which can then be viewed through this.

Educational uses? Well I've only had it for a couple of hours but I could imagine visiting some historic buildings and taking a 360 panorama with the Cardboard Camera and reliving the visit back in the classroom. What can you see around you? The app also records the sound too. Viewing Google Street View through the viewer looks great. Could be helpful with your studies on the locality, or a contrasting locality. I've just viewed the area around the Great Pyramid of Giza, and the northern lights in Finland!

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Google Classroom - My First Lessons

It's been interesting to see over the last couple of months the number of schools in south east Wales who have 'gone Google'. If you have read some of my previous posts you will know that I've helped to introduce Google for Education into several primary schools across the region, and during a recent conversation with a primary school it became clear that this number is beginning to swell greatly. In one local authority we counted at least 17 primary and secondary schools using Google Apps, and these were just the ones that we were aware of. I certainly believe that number is going to grow quite significantly in that local authority, and also in surrounding LAs.

During these conversations one Google Apps tool kept being flagged up as "amazing" - Google Classroom. I was obviously aware of it's potential in school, and heard lots of good things, but until now had never had a chance to use it with a class.

For those who don't know what it is, Google Classroom is a free tool that comes with a Google for Education account. It allows teachers to simply set up an online classroom area where you can communicate with pupils, and share and collaborate on documents. The interface is easy to navigate, add content to, and intuitive. From a digital competence perspective, it's the ease with which the communication and collaboration aspect can be developed that's fantastic. Google Classroom seamlessly links with your Google Drive. Documents are simply shared with the pupils in your class, either one document for all to collaborate on together, or one document sent to each pupil. The killer function for me is that when the pupil has finished the task they hand in their work, which is automatically organised into assignment folders in my Google Drive. No more digging around shared network drives looking for evidence of the pupils work. You can then comment on (and grade if need be) the pupil's work and return it to them.

Returned documents automatically organised in my Google Drive

For the last two weeks I've started working for one afternoon a week with a Year 6 class in my wife's primary school. I was asked to go in and deliver some lessons on databases, and thought this would be a really good opportunity to use Google Classroom to support the lessons. The school has introduced my ICT SoW, which is split into various activities around a particular strand of ICT. In the first week I had to initially introduce the pupils to Google for Education, making sure they could all log in. I then took them straight into Google Classroom. I then let them respond to an 'announcement', which got them very excited. Pupils were writing a short post about themselves, and were encouraged to respond to others. It was a good opportunity to discuss appropriate ways to talk to people online, and also to make them aware that anything they write can be seen by all the class. Within about 10mins we had about 150 comments! The actual lesson utilised an online database, which was queried to find out who were the culprits to various 'crimes'. I prepared a Google Doc which had the learning objective, some information about what a database is, a hyperlink to the website, and space where the pupils had to record their answers. At the end of the lesson the pupils then handed in their work using a button that appears at the top of their document. I was then able to see how many pupil had returned their work, open up each document, comment on what they had done and return it to them.

Screen grab of Google Classroom on my smart phone

A pretty simple work flow for the teacher. This week I set another assignment, but this time they had to take a screen shot of the Purple Mash database activity, and paste this into the assignment which was then returned to me. A slightly more 'stressful' lesson as I assumed the pupils knew their Purple Mash login details.....which they didn't. Never assume :-)

After two lessons I'm really happy with how Google Classroom works, and can see why other schools like it too. The iPad and Android app work well, being able to add announcements, questions and assignments from those devices. This particular primary school is now beginning to use Classroom with the whole of KS2. It'll be interesting to have a conversation with the teachers next term to evaluate what they think of it.

I also recently attended the Bett Show in London and sat in on a couple of Google presentations which were mainly about Classroom. It was great to see Alice Keeler there as I have followed her on Twitter for some time and often view her website. Just bought her book, "50 Things You Can Do With Google Classroom". Hopefully it'll give me some great ideas.