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 (https://goo.gl/6qPKQO). 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 - http://goo.gl/forms/bL0SxULhB0

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 (hwb@wales.gsi.gov.uk).

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

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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:

Citizenship
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.